Scientists have found an extremely rare fossil in Canada that is of an entirely new invertebrate species. This fossil is so significant that it has provided experts with very important information regarding the origins of multicellular animals. This newly identified fossil dates back to 375 million years ago during the Late Devonian Period. And it is very small, measuring just six centimeters.
Discovered in Gaspésie's Miguasha Provincial Park, the new species is a ctenophore (comb jelly) which is a fish with a soft body and that looks similar to a jellyfish. Richard Cloutier, who is a paleontologist from the Université du Québec à Rimouski and one of the lead researchers, described the significance of the discovery, “It's a very interesting fossil, and it's revealing a lot of insights about the evolution of life,” adding, “It's very, very rare that we have that kind of fossil.”
It’s hard to believe that the fossil was even found as it had no bones, cartilage, or teeth. “Normally what we find in the fossil, it's all the hard parts,” Cloutier stated, adding, “Usually when it's a soft-bodied animal, there's nothing that could be preserved.” Hans Larsson, who is a paleontology professor at McGill University's Redpath Museum, but wasn’t involved in the research, described the discovery as being exceptional and saying, “Imagine preserving a jellyfish for hundreds of millions of years in a rock. It's almost impossible to even imagine the odds of finding this.”
Cloutier went on to say that finding such a unique fossil is confirmation that comb jellies were one of the earliest multicellular animals on the planet and has revealed important information about the origins of complex life. In fact, it is another important step regarding the theory that all animals evolved from either comb jellies or sponges.
Johanne Kerr, who is the Miguasha Park's collection manager, stated that the site is “really exceptional” and it certainly is as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. While numerous vertebrates have been found there, soft-bodied fish are an entirely new discovery and hopefully more will be found as Kerr noted, “Now that we know we can find this type of fossils here in Miguasha, we'll keep an eye out for more of them.”
As for what will happen next, the fossil will be analyzed by additional scientists and will eventually be put on display next year for the public to view. In the meantime, a picture of the fossil can be seen here.
Quebec’s Miguasha National Park is famous for its fossils dating back to the Devonian Period (also known as the “Age of Fishes”). Five of the six prehistoric fish groups associated with that time period have been found at the Upper Devonian Escuminac Formation. The largest amount and best preserved fossils belonging to the lobe-finned fish have been discovered there. These brought about the first terrestrial vertebrates with four legs and that breathed air – they were tetrapods.