Canadian scientists have unearthed fossil remains of an ancient lobster-like predator that had four eyes and six claws.

A team of paleontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and Pomona College in California found the fossil of the creature that lived some 508 million years ago during the Cambrian Period. The fossil was found at the Burgess Shale site near Marble Canyon.

The creature is called the Yawunik kootenayi and may have measured around 15 centimeters, or 6 inches, long. The marine creature had long front appendages, which resemble the antennae that are seen on the modern-day shrimp or beetle. Scientists suggest that the appendages of the Yawunik kootenayi included three claws. Two claws also had teeth that enabled the creature to catch prey.

Cédric Aria, a postdoctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, who is also the lead author of the study, believes that the fossil is very well preserved. The latest discovery will help in understanding the predatory habits and anatomy of the first arthropods.

The Yawunik kootenayi had some prominent features, such as a segmented body, jointed appendages and an external skeleton, which are seen in modern-day arthropods. However, the creature also lacked some other features that are found in contemporary cousins.

The scientists posit that the closest modern-day relatives of the Yawunik could be the chelicerates, a group that includes the horseshoe crab, scorpions and spiders. The claws of the ancient creature look similar to those of spider mouthparts.

Aria, however, suggests that the creature actually represents a stem group, one that is believed to have split from the direct ancestors of modern-day species.

"Unlike insects or crustaceans, Yawunik did not possess additional appendages in the head that were specifically modified to process food," said Aria. "Evolution resulted here in a combination of adaptations onto the frontal-most appendage of this creature, maybe because such modifications were easier to acquire."

About 200,000 fossil specimens have been found at Burgess Shale since 1909. Marble Canyon may have more in the bag for paleontologists to discover. Burgess Shale and Marble Canyon are just 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, away from each other but species found at these sites are very different. Some fossil specimens found at Marble Canyon also resemble creatures that were found in older fossil sites in Australia and China.

The precise location where the fossil was found is not being revealed to prevent looters from taking the ancient fossils.

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