Quirks & Quarks

Hallucigenia Fossil A-head of the Game - Web Extra

Re-examination of a half-billion year old fossil leads to a new picture of a mysterious ancient life form

An ancient fossil gets a mouth and throat full of teeth

Reconstruction of Hallucigenia (Danielle Dufault)
Of the many "weird wonders" of the famous, half-billion-year-old Burgess Shale fossils, one called Hallucigenia has given scientists the most trouble. Many of these fossils, which date back to the first explosion of complex life on Earth, are difficult to understand.

But Hallucigenia stands out. In the attempt to work out what kind of creature it was, paleontologists have confused its top from its bottom, and its head from its tail. But in a new interpretation, based on carefully analyzed fossils examined under an electron microscope, Dr. Martin Smith, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues, have discovered new features of Hallucigenia.

For the first time, they've reconstructed its head, which included a mouth and throat full of sharp teeth.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- Release from Royal Ontario Museum/University of Cambridge
- CBC/Reuters News story
- Not Exactly Rocket Science blog
BBC News story

(Note:  This is web-only interview that was not broadcast on radio)