Scientists intrigued by a mysterious, extinct creature because it could be one of our ancient ancestors
An enigmatic and ancient organism that has baffled researchers for more than a decade could lead to the discovery of its place in the evolutionary tree. Palaeospondylus gunni was found in fossils in Scotland in 1890 and flourished around 390 million years ago throughout the Middle Devonian.
An extinct creature continues to intrigue scientists
As published in the journal Nature, a recent review of well-preserved remains, experts believe it was one of the earliest ancestors of tetrapods – creatures with four extremities, including humans.
Daisy (Yuzhi) Hu of the Australian National University explained that this strange species had puzzled researchers before its discovery in 1890 as an unsolvable enigma.
Morphometric analogies of this living creature are often exceptionally difficult for experts, but new advances in fragmentation and high-resolution 3D modeling have made this goal hitherto unattainable; getting a room as well maintained as those used by researchers is like hitting the jackpot, according to Science Alert.
There are various explanations why categorizing this species has been difficult. It has many remains, but since Palaeospondylus was so small and its bones were so destroyed, recreating the morphology of its skull was extremely difficult.
In addition, its morphology shows characteristics of both jawed and jawless fish, as well as an absolute absence of molars and epidermal skeleton preserved in archaeological evidence.
The expert group, led by paleontologist Tatsuya Hirasawa of Tokyo College and RIKEN in Japan, attempted to address these issues by locating remarkable specimens with skulls that were nevertheless firmly entrenched and covered in stone.
Compared to specimens with uncovered skulls, this showed that the creatures’ skulls were mostly intact. By selecting the best samples for micro-CT and meticulously cutting the stone around the ancient skull, the scientists were able to increase diagnostic sensitivity. Although not at the cutting edge of innovation, these measures have undoubtedly been essential to our success.
The scientists then examined the specimens using micro-computed synchrotron radiation X-ray scanning, which enabled them to photograph the relics in detail without harming them, enabling them to undertake an investigation. and a complete renovation.
With or without molars or skin tendons, the results are quite remarkable. Scientists have discovered three curved tubes in the skull of Palaeospondylus, which are consistent with the vestibular system of mouthed animals.
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Extinct creature linked to ancient human ancestors
Some aspects of the skull of Palaeospondylus were similar to those of two other roughly contemporaneous archaic fishes, Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys.
Several of these species are classified as lobe-finned fishes or sarcopterygians. Most tetrapods are descended from sarcopterygians, and these sarcopterygians and their tetrapod offspring are called tetrapodomorphs. Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys share characteristics with tetrapodomorphs.
However, the lack of fangs and epidermal ridges on Palaeospondylus is a problem. These characteristics are typical of tetrapodomorphs, and other species that lived alongside our unusual little fish also possessed them.
Palaeospondylus appears to be a young tetrapodomorph, lacking any mature features. This could be resolved if Palaeospondylus followed an alternative developmental change, which slowed or stopped its growth.
It’s uncertain whether the molars and mandible simply stunted their growth or were removed altogether, but experts believe it could be an environmental quirk that allowed the creature to evolve in various directions, possibly towards the formation of appendages.
In the future, specialists want to expand their investigation of the particular organism in an attempt to further determine its location in mammalian genealogy.
From a formative evolutionary point of view, the strange form of Palaeospondylus, which resembles that of tetrapod caterpillars, is truly fascinating.
With this in mind, EureAlert said researchers should proceed to study the embryonic mechanics that drove this alteration and similar morphological alterations that occurred throughout the passage from water to land in antiquity. vertebrates.
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