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The Canadian Rockies are where the oldest known kinds of jellyfish were found.

Jellyfish that could swim have been found in the Canadian Rockies, and they date back to 505 million years ago, when Earth’s oceans were full of life. Researchers excavated 182 specimens from the renowned Burgess Shale fossil deposit.

The fossils are of a type of jellyfish named Burgessomedusa phasmiformis, and they demonstrate the advanced level of evolution already present in these organisms millions of years ago.

Due to their high water content, the fossils of these soft-bodied animals are remarkably well preserved. The length of the jellyfish is approximately 8 inches (or 20 centimeters).

On Tuesday, a research describing the results appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Jellyfish are medusozoans, which are organisms that have a body like an umbrella and tentacles that may sting. Cnidaria, which includes medusozoans, corals, and sea anemones, is one of the oldest animal groupings on Earth.

Polyps, which are cnidarians’ most common body type, are vase-shaped and are frequently attached to a surface like the seafloor.

The medusa-shaped body that gives these animals their name is typical of the phylum Medusozoa. Medusozoans start out as polyps and can change into medusas during their life cycle, with some of them being able to swim independently. Modern box jellies, hydroids, stalked jellyfish, and real jellyfish are all examples of medusozoans.

More than 500 million years ago, as evidenced by the abundance of Burgessomedusa phasmiformis fossils at the location, huge, swimming bell-shaped jellyfish formed.

Although jellyfish and its cousins are among the oldest classes of animals, they have proven elusive to fossil hunters throughout the Cambrian period. This finding proves beyond a doubt that they were swimming around at the time, according to research co-author Joe Moysiuk, a doctorate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto. His primary workplace is the Royal Ontario Museum.

Precious cache of uncommon fossils

Researchers have had a harder time trying to determine the ancestry of free-swimming jellyfish, despite the fact that fossilized polyps dating back 560 million years have been discovered.

Many of these fossils were first unearthed from the Burgess Shale by Desmond Collins, the former curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum.

It has, however, taken some time to examine and catalogue each item.

Smithsonian secretary Charles D. Walcott made the initial discovery of the Burgess Shale in 1909. Fossils of all kinds of creatures, including those with soft bodies, have been found at the 508 million year old site. Soft tissue and interior anatomy of more fragile sea species are rarely preserved in the fossil record, yet this location offers exceptionally detailed imprints and outlines of both.

An undersea avalanche of fine silt and mud soon ensnared a large group of creatures, preserving their remains and demonstrating the diversity of life in Earth’s waters at the time. Among such specimens are extinct animals that are unrelated to any living things on Earth today. Over time, the creatures’ bodies became petrified and layered between layers of mud.

Predators with soft bodies

The Royal Ontario Museum recently included Burgessomedusa phasmiformis specimens to their Burgess Shale exhibit.

The complexity of the ancient food web increases as more fossils from the Burgess Shale are studied. At first, researchers assumed that giant swimming arthropods like the Anomalocaris, which was also preserved in the same rock as the Burgessomedusa specimen, were the primary predators.

However, Burgessomedusa may have been an equally formidable marine predator because of its 90 tentacles’ ability to grasp prey.

It’s amazing that these really tiny animals have been preserved in rock layers high in these mountains. Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Richard Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and co-author on the paper, made this comment, “The addition of Burgessomedusa further complicates Cambrian food webs; these jellyfish, like their contemporaries Anomalocaris, were adept swimmers and predators.” This is yet another amazing animal family tree that was preserved in the Burgess Shale, which is a fascinating record of Earth’s evolutionary history.

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