Strange “blobs” found in China could be evidence of the first animals that ever existed, experts say. Fossil evidence of the ancient creatures, which resemble jelly fish, was discovered in 600 million-year-old rocks.
The previously unknown animal doesn’t have a name yet but microscopic analysis showed similar features to comb jellies – including tentacles and mucous layers.
The carnivorous comb jelly species still exist today, feeding on small marine organisms.
The oldest animal to have ever lived was previously thought to be the Dickinsonia, an organism called an ediacaran, which lived 541 million years ago.
“The origin and earliest evolution of animals is a fascinating question that has puzzled scientists for many decades,” said Dr Zhenbing She at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who led the team behind the discovery.
Dr She’s team found fossils measuring around 0.7 millimetres across in a drill core taken from the Doushantuo Formation in China.
The discovery of the jellyfish – revealed in a report by Graham Lawton in New Scientist – existed more than 40 million years earlier than the Dickinsonia, researchers claim.
If the fossil is an ancient relative of a comb jelly, this would suggest that it was part of of a larger food web and a complex ecosystem.
Microscopic analysis of the rocks revealed what appear to be tentacles, muscle tissue, nerve cells, gonads, mucous layers and clusters of hairlike-structures.
Fossils dating as far back as 631 million years ago have already been found in these beds, but scientists have not been able to determine exactly what they are.
They are only visible through microscopes and may just be cells from algae or developing animal embryos.
Dr She said that the fossils’ features are similar to the comb jelly Ctenophora because the fossil’s hair clusters look like structures called ctenes that comb jellies use to swim.
The fossils most closely resemble the living genus of comb jellies called Pleurobrachia, or sea gooseberries.
If the new fossils are comb jellies, then it opens the door for more discoveries as the majority of comb jellies today feed on small marine species.
If the fossil was also a carnivore, it must have fed on other species which are yet to be revealed.
“There are many other creatures in the deposit, but we are not sure what they are,” Dr. She added.
The 558-million-year-old Dickinsonia, which was discovered last year, was described as a combination of a jellyfish, a worm, a fungus and a lichen.
The oval-shaped lifeform existed at least 20 million years before the “Cambrian explosion” of animal life, according to the research.
The Cambrian explosion took place about 540 million years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods.
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