Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cactus Walking On 20 Legs Found In China

Cactus Walking On 20 Legs Found In China


http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/03/01/134138005/cactus-walking-on-20-legs-found-in-china
There was a wild period — roughly 520 million years ago — when life, for no obvious reason, burst into a crazy display of weird new fantastic forms — producing creatures in shapes never seen before or since. Consider this animal, the newest fossil discovery from Jianni Liu in China. She calls it "the walking cactus."
This is not a plant, not a sculpture. It was a live animal, with no eyes, what may or may not be a head, mostly a gaggle of limbs, armor-plated, covered in thorns, attached to a stomach.
What is it? Taxonomically, Jianni Liu thinks it's a lobopodian, a group of animals described as "worms with legs." Lobopodians are about the craziest looking critters that ever lived. A whole zoo of them appear in the rocks around Chengjiang, China. Here's what the walking cactus looks like in a rock...
A fossil of Diania cactiformis.
Nature
A fossil of Diania cactiformis.
Jianni Liu has found three well-preserved walking cactus fossils, but previously discovered lobopodians are even weirder. Hallucigeni, so named because of its "bizarre and dreamlike quality" (said the scientist who described it) is another walking worm that has what looks like a head-like blob on one side, but with no mouth, no eyes, no sensory organs, so it probably isn't a head.
Illustration of Hallucigenia.
Mary Parrish/Smithsonian Institution
No one can quite figure out if those projections are walking legs or feeding tentacles. We're not sure which side is up, which is down, but we know it lived in shallow seas and so the folks at the Field Museum in Chicago have imagined it taking a walk on a sunny day...moving something like this...

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