Researchers have unearthed the remains of a sea monster's offspring from 500 million years ago. The infant predator was just as vicious as its mother.
A Dangerous Sea Creature
Spanning up to more than 3 meters in adulthood, the Lyrarapax unguispinus is one of the deadliest sea creatures that scientists now know lived half a billion years ago. Its serrated teeth spread out over a 360-degree mouth and two sharp claws hung on its face for grabbing hold of the prey, then crushing them before shoveling them into its mouth.
Little did scientists know, the baby Lyrarapax is just as ferocious as its mother. New research suggests that the offspring of the ferocious shrimp-like creature has features no different from the adult.
Fossil Of Predator Baby Unearthed
A team of paleontologists from China, Germany, and Australia has unearthed the fossil of a baby Lyrarapax embedded within a 518-million-year-old shale rock in Yunnan province in China.
In a paper published in the National Science Review, the researchers describe that the infant creature, no longer than three-fourths of an inch in length, displayed an "adult-like morphology." This suggests the little Lyrarapax was no cuddly creature from the start, it was born to kill.
"Its adult-like morphology - especially the fully developed frontal appendages and [mouth] - indicates that L. unguispinus as a well-equipped predator at an early development stage," the researchers wrote.
Like its parent, the baby Lyrarapax had a crown of claws for snapping prey into two and a round mouth full of serrated teeth for ripping apart its victim.
New Kind Of Radiodonta
The Lyrarapax was clearly at the top of the food chain during its time. Its radiating teeth indicates that is part of the radiodonta group of arthropods, which are characterized with a similar round row of fangs.
Its descendants include scorpions, crustaceans, and spiders. For a modern-day reference for the Lyrarapax's appearance, one can look at the vinegarroon, a whip scorpion so named because of the streams of vinegar-like substance it produces when threatened.
The Lyrarapax lived during the Cambrian explosion, a period during Earth's early years that saw the rapid rise of new species. Scientists believe the rapid growth of diversity, which took place approximately 540 million years ago and lasted 20 to 25 million years, placed undue pressure on animals to adapt to an environment with an enormous competition.
Before the Cambrian explosion, the early oceans were said to have very little oxygen that only simple organisms could survive in it. Scientists believe a slight rise in oxygen levels may have caused organisms to evolve and develop protective features, such as exoskeletons.
New research, however, might challenge the theory of a Cambrian explosion. The discovery of footprints dating back to pre-Cambrian eras suggest animals evolved to develop legs and feet before such an event occurred.