Artist rendering is by Marianne Collins
It’s 500-million-years old and scientists are only now beginning to discover the rare qualities and characteristics of a strange tulip-shaped creature discovered fossilized in the Canadian Rockies.

Named Siphusauctum gregarium, the creature was about the length of a dinner knife at 8 inches, and had a bulbous structure that contained its feeding system and gut. The feeding system is resulting in questions concerning how the creature evolve over time to develop such an unusual tract of digestion.

The creature in question resided in garden-like clusters on the seafloor, some of which include the remains of more than 65 individuals. Researchers say the clusters of creatures resemble “tulip beds,” noting that upwards of 1,000 have been discovered, thus far.

In a statement released Thursday, scientists said the unusual creature displayed characteristics that are no longer present in creatures roaming the Earth today.

“Most interesting is that this feeding system appears to be unique among animals,” study researcher Lorna O’Brien said in a statement. “Recent advances have linked many bizarre Burgess Shale animals as primitive members of many animal groups that are found today, but Siphusauctum defies this trend. We do not know where it fits in relation to other organisms.”

Siphusauctum gregarium was probably an active filter-feeder, with water passing through its openings, capturing food particles with its comb-like elements. It often occurs in large assemblages on single bedding planes suggesting a gregarious lifestyle. Scientists noted the fossilized remains were probably the result of being buried by rapid mud flow events.

The findings from O’Brien and her supervisor at the Royal Ontario Museum, Jean-Bernard Caron, were published online Wednesday by the journal PLoS ONE.



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