When people think about apex predators in the sea, a shrimp-like figure would probably be the last thing that would come to mind. However, an extinct sea creature with strange facial appendages was recently discovered in Greenland.

The discovery was unearthed in Greenland back in 2009 and scientists have determined that it lived around 520 million years ago. The ancient sea creature, now known as Tamisiocaris, lived during the Cambrian Explosion. This was a period in the Earth's long history characterized by an explosion of life. During the Cambrian Explosion, many types of animals suddenly appeared in a relatively short amount of time. The researchers who studied Tamisiocaris published their findings in the online journal Nature.  

"These primitive arthropods were, ecologically speaking, the sharks and whales of the Cambrian era," said University of Bristol macroevolution lecturer Jakob Vinther. "In both sharks and whales, some species evolved into suspension feeders and became gigantic, slow-moving animals that in turn fed on the smallest animals in the water." Vinther is also the lead author of the study.

The ancient shrimp like animal had bizarre looking appendages on its face that was used to filter food from the ocean's waters. The animal is considered as a sweep net feeder, which collected tiny organisms in its mouth using the distinct appendages on its face.

"Tamisiocaris would have been a sweep net feeder, collecting particles in the fine mesh formed when it curled its appendage up against its mouth," said University of Copenhagen postdoctoral researcher Dr Martin Stein. "This is a rare instance when you can actually say something concrete about the feeding ecology of these types of ancient creatures with some confidence."

The researchers who discovered the creature are confident about their findings regarding the feeding habits of Tamisiocaris, which is rare when dealing with ancient marine animals that lived more than 500 million years ago. To ascertain their theories about the appendages, Stein developed a 3D animation of the creature's face. By studying the possible movements of the appendages using the 3D model, the scientists came to the conclusion that Tamisiocaris was a filter feeder.

Tamisiocaris could grow to a length of 28 inches. While its size may seem wholly inadequate for an apex predator today, it was one of the largest animals alive during the Cambrian Explosion.

"The fact that large, free-swimming suspension feeders roamed the oceans tells us a lot about the ecosystem," Vinther added. "Feeding on the smallest particles by filtering them out of the water while actively swimming around requires a lot of energy - and therefore lots of food."

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