A fossilized starfish found in Morocco dating back to 480 million years it became a “missing link” between modern crinoids and their ancestors.
Experts from the University of Cambridge explained that the fossil, discovered in the so-called Fezouata shale of the Anti-Atlas mountain range, is the starfish oldest known to date.
It dates back to a period in Earth’s history, the so-called Ordovician Biodiversification Event, when life suddenly expanded, reveals the study published in the journal Biology Letters.
The fossilized starfish has feathery arms that are still visible. Photo: Aaron Hunter
Going back, the researchers add, the oldest sea star specimen recorded to date belonged to was 50 million years younger.
This ancient discovered species that bears the scientific name of Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis, has a intricate design with feathery arms still visible.
The preserved remains in very good condition will allow paleontologists to map the body of the species and shed light on how they evolved.
The find of the starfish took place in Morocco. Photo: PA
The characteristic shape of the starfish, in the 480 million year old fossil. Photo: PA
“Finding this missing link with your ancestors is incredibly exciting,” said evolutionary paleontologist Aaron Hunter of the University of Cambridge.
“If you went back in time and stuck your head under the sea in the Ordovician, you would not recognize any of the marine organisms except starfish, which are one of the first modern animals”, analyzes and disseminates Daily Mail.
Sea lily star
The cantabrigiaster fezouataensis it lacks about 60 percent of the body plan characteristics of a modern starfish. What’s more, according to the researchers looks like a hybrid between a starfish and a crinoid, or ‘sea lily’.
Sea lilies are filter feeders with wavy arms that resemble plants because they are attached to the seabed through a cylindrical “stem”, they explain.
Hunter was amazed at the level of detail in the fossil, the structure of which is so complex that it took time to unravel its meaning.
The species found lacks 60% of the characteristics of a modern starfish. Photo: SWINS
Dr Hunter and his colleague Javier Ortega-Hernández, formerly also from Cambridge, now based at Harvard University in the US, examined a catalog of hundreds of starfish-like animals.
They recorded all of their bodily characteristics to assess how this amazing species was related to other members of the “echinoderm” family, a diverse group that includes the sea cucumbers.
The fossil has a symmetry of five extensions, but this ancient form had broad arms that had an almost pentagonal outline.
“One thing we hope to answer in the future is why starfish developed their five arms. It looks like a stable form, but we don’t know why yet,” Hunter wondered.
And he left the biggest challenge on the table: finding the fossil that provides that particular connection to finally find the answer.