The previously unknown “sea monster” which scientists have dubbed Daihua sanqiong, lived in the ocean’s depths in what is now modern day China. However, thanks to new research, it has been revealed that the extinct animal shares a number of anatomical characteristics with a distant relative known as the comb jelly. A new study, carried out by lead researcher Jakob Vinther, from Bristol University, detailed how the discovery of a fossil showed the creature had 18 tentacles surrounding its mouth.
He told Live Science in March 2019: “With the fossils, we have been able to find out what the bizarre comb jellies originated from.
“Even though we now can show they came from a very sensible place, it doesn’t make them any less weird.”
Dr Vinther came across the creature while visiting colleagues at Yunnan University in China.
Scientists there showed him a number of fossils in their collection that they were unable to identify, when one caught his attention.
With the fossils, we have been able to find out what the bizarre comb jellies originated from
Dr Vinther noticed the Daihua sanqiong had a number of fine, feather-like tentacles with rows or large ciliary hairs, which likely helped it to capture prey.
These hairs were particularly of interest to Dr Vinther “because we only find big cilia on comb jellies”.
He added: “To make a long story short, we were able to reconstruct the whole [early] lineage of comb jellies.
“This is a big deal because some scientists argue that these swimming carnivores were among the first animals to evolve on Earth.
“But now, this international team has possibly shown that comb jellies have a long lineage that precedes them.”
The new research suggests that some of the ancestors of comb jellies had skeletons and that their ancient tentacles evolved into the combs we see today.
However, the discovery has sparked a debate among scientists.
Casey Dunn, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, does not believe the ancient creature is related the comb jellies.
He said: “I am highly sceptical of the conclusions they draw.
“These are exciting animals no matter how they’re related to each other.
“Even though I’m sceptical that tentacles and comb rows are evolutionarily related, I think that as we describe more diversity from these deposits, certainly we’re going to learn a lot more about animal evolution.”
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