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A Large Cambrian Chaetognath with Supernumerary Grasping Spines

A Large Cambrian Chaetognath with Supernumerary Grasping Spines
Derek E.G. Briggs, Jean-Bernard Caron


Chaetognaths (arrow worms) are a separate phylum (Chaetognatha) of small carnivorous animals, dominantly pelagic, and a major component of today's plankton [1, 2]. The position of Chaetognatha among metazoan phyla remains equivocal—neither morphological nor molecular data provide definitive evidence [3]. Originating early in the Cambrian period [4], if not earlier [5], chaetognaths quickly became important members of marine metazoan communities [6]. Chaetognath grasping spines, originally reported as conodonts, occur worldwide in many Cambrian marine sediments [6, 7]. Fossilized chaetognath bodies, in contrast, are very rare: only two unequivocal specimens have been reported, both from the early Cambrian of China [8, 9]. Here we describe Capinatator praetermissus, a new genus and species, based on ∼50 specimens from several middle Cambrian Burgess Shale localities in British Columbia, many of which preserve evidence of soft tissues. Capinatator praetermissus reached body lengths of nearly 10 cm exclusive of fins, a much larger size than that of most living forms. Clusters of specimens preserving the body indicate that they were rapidly buried, providing indirect evidence that they swam near the seabed. The feeding apparatus comprises up to ∼25 spines in each half, almost double the maximum number in living chaetognaths. Early chaetognaths apparently occupied ecological niches associated with predatory euarthropods. The large body size and high number of grasping spines in C. praetermissus may indicate that miniaturization and migration to a planktonic lifestyle were secondary.

Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)30860-6

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.003

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