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ScienceShot: Hide and Seek in the Cambrian

7 December 2011 1:00 pm
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Katrina Kenny/University of Adelaide

About 515 million years ago the Cambrian seas were home to the weirdly wonderful predator Anomalocaris. The creature, seen in this artist's impression, was a distant cousin of arthropods, with eyes on stalks and a circular mouth containing interlocking plates that might be best described as a camera shutter of doom. These features have led paleontologists to think that Anomalocaris was a formidable predator of creatures like worms and trilobites, but, until now, exactly how this animal saw its prey has been a mystery. In a new study, published online today in Nature, paleontologists report that they have found a unique specimen of Anomalocaris with exceptionally-preserved fossil impressions of the animals' eyes. The creature apparently had at least 16,000 hexagon-shaped lenses in each eye that would have given it hi-res vision similar to the visual abilities of living dragonflies. The fact that Anomalocaris had such keen eyesight may have been part of an early evolutionary arms race, the authors suggest. As predators evolved better vision, their prey must have developed better armor or other defenses. Hide and seek with Anomalocaris was certainly a dangerous game.

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