Scientists have just discovered the 500 million-year-old fossil of a strange sea creature that bears a distant resemblance to modern sponges.

The Cambrian Period, which lasted over 55 million years (541-485.4 mya), shaped Earth’s biosphere for eons to come.

It’s during the Cambrian Period that most major animal groups appeared and branched out from the tree of life.

Scientists refer to this period as the “Cambrian Explosion”, where fossils records show animal life rapidly developing and diversifying.

Read More: Where did it all Begin? The Theory of the Beginning of Life

Many animal species that look out of this world appeared during that period. Now we can add another strange-looking creature to the list.

Image of strange fossil
The new species of fossil chancelloriid: an enigmatic animal from the Cambrian Period with a tube-like body,
“minotaur-horn” spines, and doughnut-shaped scars. | Image courtesy of: Derek Siveter, Tom Harvey & Peiyun Cong.

The Cambrian “Nude” Spongebob

Fossils traverse several millions of years to teach us about the history of complex lifeforms on Earth during its dramatic periods.

Over the years, paleontologists have documented so many strange prehistoric creatures that once lived on lands and in oceans.

Now, an international team of paleontologists from the University of Leicester, UK and Yunnan University, China unearthed the fossils of yet another bizarre-looking marine creature from the Cambrian Period.

Read More: New Evidence Shows Life on Earth Started Earlier Than Previously Thought

The six fossils, discovered in the Yunnan Province of China, were thought to belong to an extinct mysterious group known as chancelloriids, “a lineage of spiny tube-shaped animals that arose during the Cambrian evolutionary “explosion” but went extinct soon afterwards.”

The newly-discovered species, named Allonnia nuda, is larger than what paleontologists expect from chancelloriids.

At 50 cm or more, the tube-shaped A. nuda is much larger than typical chancelloriids and has far fewer tiny spines.

This “naked” appearance led scientists to believe that other specimens of Allonia nuda might be “hiding” in fossil collections.

The body structure of A. nuda suggests a link to modern-day sponges.

“Fossil chancelloriids were first described around 100 years ago, but have resisted attempts to place them in the tree of life. We argue that their pattern of body growth supports a link to sponges, reinvigorating an old hypothesis. We’re not suggesting that it’s “case closed” for chancelloriids, but we hope our results will inspire new research into the nature of the earliest animals,” said Dr Tom Harvey, one of the researchers.

The team describes its new Cambrian finding in a paper published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society.

As Allonia nuda doesn’t fit into the evolutionary tree, do you think it could be of extraterrestrial origins?

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