A while ago, a team of scientists found a bizarre, alien-looking worm covered in bristles and with two tentacles in British Columbia, Canada. The remains looked familiar with other bristle worms, with hair covering almost its entire tiny body. However, according to the lead author of the study, Karma Nanglu, unlike the worms living today, this 508-million-year old one also had hair on its head. Upon analyzing the fossils, the researchers found the missing link in the evolution of ringed worms. It was previously unknown how leeches and earthworms actually developed their heads. Thanks to this fossil, researchers may now know the answer.
According to Nanglu, the head probably evolved from posterior body segments. Those also had bundles of bristles, a theory supported by modern-day annelid species. It’s interesting that from 2012 and up until 2016, researchers discovered over 500 worm fossils in the Marble Canyon. Nanglu says that these fossils found within the famous Burgess Shale deposit are extremely important. They are proof of a phenomenon called the Cambrian Explosion. This represents the first discovery of modern animal groups in the fossil records.
The mysterious and bizarre bristly worm
As for this bristly worm, it was very small, measuring about 1 inch in length. However, it had a very large number of bristles on its tiny body. Apart from this, it also sported two very long tentacles on its tiny head. Between the tentacles it had small antennae which it most likely used to scan the surroundings.
The name of Kootenayscolex barbarensis honors Barbara Polk Milstein, a volunteer who helped with the Burgess Shale research. The name is also a reference to the Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, the location of the Marble Canyon. Apart from this, the scientific name also includes the word scolex, which means “worm” in Greek. It’s interesting that this bizarre little worm could shed some light on an evolutionary mystery that scientists have been trying to solve for years.
Image source: flickr