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The bryozoan mystery: A new look at an old fossil reveals the origin of these tiny creatures

Still Waters

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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

Most groups of modern animals had their beginnings more than half a billion years ago in an amazing evolutionary event known as the Cambrian Explosion.

This wasn’t the kind of explosion caused by a bomb or asteroid: we call it an “explosion” because of the huge and rapid increase in the diversity of animals we see in the fossil record during this time.

Many familiar features of today’s animals arose in this period. The first eyes and other sensory organs developed, and appendages for swimming and walking also appeared. Tooth-rimmed jaws for predation evolved, as did complex hard parts for protection against predators.

One group of animals, called bryozoans, has until now appeared to be absent from the Cambrian Explosion. In new research, we took a closer look at some old fossils and discovered these tiny coral-like creatures were indeed present during this riotous surge in the variety of animal life on Earth.


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