filter-feeding ”lobster” the size of a human took the place of whales 480 million years ago, according to a new fossil discovery.
The 6.5 foot prehistoric creature, whose remains were unearthed in Morocco, lived at a time when life was just starting to find its feet, writes The Telegraph.
The lobster-like creature belonged to the family of anomalocaridids – the ancient ancestors of modern crustaceans, insects and spiders.
But while most of its relatives were shark-like apex predators with circular mouths ringed by sharp teeth, the new species, named Aegirocassis benmoulae, was a gentle giant.
Similar to modern day whales, the creature filtered seawater to trap tiny particles of food, using spine-covered ”limbs” on its head.
Scientists believe it is the oldest giant filter-feeder ever discovered.
Dr Allison Daley, from Oxford University, who co-led a team studying Aegirocassis writing in the journal Nature, said: ”This would have been one of the largest animals alive at the time.
”These animals are filling an ecological role that hadn’t previously been filled by any other animal.
“While filter-feeding is probably one of the oldest ways for animals to find food, previous filter-feeders were smaller, and usually attached to the sea-floor.
“We have found the oldest example of gigantism in a freely swimming filter-feeder.”
A. benmoulae was named after Mohamed Ben Moula – the Moroccan fossil hunter who discovered it,
The three-dimensional fossil is well preserved – unlike other anomalocaridid fossil, which have been flat.
In contrast, other anomalocaridid fossils have been flat, like pressed leaves.
”Without these 3D remains, we may never have got the insight into these animals’ anatomy that we did,” said Dr Daley.
The fossil illustrates that Aegirocassis had pairs of swimming flaps along its body – likely to be precursors of the unique double-branched appendages possessed by modern crustaceans.
This large fossilized creature is the latest in a line of bizarre fossils unearthed.
Fossil hunters searching for ancient relics found the skeleton of a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth in the North Sea.
The team of archaeologists, salvagers and palaeontologists trawled the waters off the east coast of Britain at a depth of 100 feet.
Bones of animals including woolly rhinos, Irish elks and parts of the male skeleton of an 11-foot tall woolly mammoth, have all been brought to the surface during the expedition.
Scientists believe the ancient sinkhole opened up 25,000 years ago, trapping these creatures in the cool, dark conditions – perfect for preservation.