The fossil of the first known animal predator – which was unearthed in Leicester – is named after Sir David Attenborough.
Called Auroralumina attenboroughii, the 560 million-year-old primitive jellyfish was discovered in Charnwood Forest, near Leicester, a city with which Sir David has long-standing ties.
The 96-year-old, who used to go fossil hunting in the area and is credited with raising awareness of the Ediacaran fossils in the forest, said he was ‘really thrilled’ .
Researchers say the specimen is the first of its kind and is believed to be the first creature to have a skeleton.
The creature was about seven inches tall and was said to have been tethered to the seabed on a beige ‘stem’, using flame-colored tentacles to grab food.
The first part of the name is Latin for dawn lantern, in recognition of its great age and resemblance to a lit torch.
Slice of history: The fossil of the first known animal predator (pictured) – which was unearthed in Leicester – has been named after Sir David Attenborough
Called Auroralumina attenboroughii, the 560-million-year-old primitive jellyfish (pictured in an artist’s impression) was discovered in Charnwood Forest, near Leicester, a city with which Sir David has long-standing ties.
The 96-year-old (pictured), who used to go fossil hunting in the area, and who is credited with raising awareness of Ediacaran fossils in the forest, said he was “really delighted”
Fossil of a frog-legged beetle named “the beauty of Attenborough” after the famous naturalist
Auroralumina attenboroughii is not the first creature to bear the name of Sir David Attenborough.
A new species of frog-legged beetle that lived nearly 49 million years ago in what is now Garfield County, Coloradowas also named after the iconic naturalist.
Pulchritudo attenboroughi, or “the beauty of Attenborough”, was announced in August 2021 in the newspaper Articles in paleontologyalthough a fossil of the prehistoric creature has been on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science since 1995.
Sir David said: “When I was at school in Leicester I was an avid fossil hunter.
“The rocks in which the Auroralumina has now been discovered were then believed to be so ancient that they dated back to long before life appeared on the planet.
“So I never looked for fossils there. A few years later, a boy at my school found one and proved the experts wrong.
“He was rewarded by giving his name to his discovery. Now I’ve – almost – caught up with it and I’m really thrilled.
This specimen was found by Roger Mason, after whom Charnia Masoni is named.
He and a group of schoolchildren were rock climbing in a quarry in Charnwood Forest in 1957 when they made their discovery.
Dr Phil Wilby, head of paleontology at the British Geological Survey, is one of the scientists who made the latest discovery.
He said: “It is generally accepted that groups of modern animals like jellyfish appeared 540 million years ago during the Cambrian Explosion.
“But this predator predates that by 20 million years. It is the first creature we know of to have a skeleton.
“So far we’ve only found one, but it’s hugely exciting to know that there must be more, holding the key to the beginning of complex life on Earth.”
According to the study, the creature is related to the group that includes corals, jellyfish and anemones living on Earth today.
In 2007, Dr. Wilby and others spent more than a week cleaning a 100 square meter rock surface with toothbrushes and pressure washers.
In an all-surface rubber mold – which captured more than 1,000 fossils – one stood out.
According to the study, the creature is related to the group that includes corals, jellyfish and anemones living on Earth today
Dr Phil Wilby (pictured), head of paleontology at the British Geological Survey, is one of the scientists who made the latest discovery
Dr Frankie Dunn, from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: ‘It’s very different from other fossils in Charnwood Forest and around the world.
“Most of the other fossils from this time have extinct body plans and it is unclear how they relate to living animals.
“This one clearly has a skeleton, with densely packed tentacles that would have thrashed around in the water capturing passing food, much like corals and sea anemones do today.
“It’s unlike anything else we found in the fossil record at the time.”
Dr. Dunn dubbed A. attenboroughii a “lonely little fossil”. It was from shallower water than others found at Charnwood.
She said: “The ancient rocks of Charnwood closely resemble those deposited in the deep ocean on the flanks of volcanic islands, much like at the base of Montserrat in the Caribbean today.
In 2007, Dr. Wilby and others spent more than a week cleaning a 100 square meter rock surface with toothbrushes and pressure washers. In an all-surface rubber mold – which captured more than 1,000 fossils – one stood out
A. attenboroughii was dated at British Geological Survey headquarters using zircons in the surrounding rock
“All of the fossils on the cleaned rock surface were anchored to the seabed and were knocked down in the same direction by a deluge of volcanic ash sweeping across the submerged foot of the volcano, except one, A. attenboroughii.
“It’s at a weird angle and has lost its base, so it looks like it’s been swept away by the flood.”
A. attenboroughii has been dated at British Geological Survey headquarters using zircons in the surrounding rock.
Zircon is a tiny radioactive mineral that acts like a geological clock as it allows geologists to gauge the amount of uranium and lead present. From there, they can accurately determine the age of the rock.
Dr Dunn said: ‘The Cambrian explosion was remarkable. It is known as the moment when the anatomy of living animal groups was fixed for the next half billion years.
“Our finding shows that the body plan of cnidarians was fixed at least 20 million years ago, so this is extremely exciting and raises many other questions.”
The discovery is reported in Nature ecology and evolution.
THE FIRST FLOWERING PLANT ON EARTH
It looks like a magnolia and would not look out of place in any front garden.
But this flower is the mother (and father) of all living flowering plants today and was seen by dinosaurs 140 million years ago.
No such ancient fossil has ever been found, so scientists recreated it by analyzing every plant family on Earth for six years.
We now know that the flowers in our gardens come from this single flower, with three distinct whorls of overlapping petals and male and female reproductive organs.
Its petals are open because its main pollinator was probably a beetle, bees barely evolving at that time and yet requiring tubular flowers like snapdragons.
It looks like a magnolia and would not look out of place in any front garden. But this flower is the mother (and father) of all living flowering plants today and was seen by dinosaurs 140 million years ago.
Flowering plants have appeared on our planet relatively recently, brightening up a dull landscape previously dominated by ferns, horsetails and mosses.
They now make up 90% of all land plants, and scientists say this is the most accurate picture of their common ancestor ever produced.
Dr Emily Bailes, who worked on the study, said: “This is the best depiction to date of the flower that is relative to every modern flower that we see today, and that would have existed when the dinosaurs were still on the planet, which is really exciting.
“It has three concentric circles of petal-like organs, unlike most plants today. We don’t know for sure what color this flower would have been, but I think it is quite pretty.
The origin of early-flowering plants, called angiosperms, remains one of biology’s greatest enigmas, nearly 140 years after Charles Darwin called their rapid rise in the Cretaceous a “abominable mystery”.
The image published in the journal Nature Communications is unlike anything we have today or any of the ideas previously proposed.
It has three whorls, or concentric circles of petals, much like the magnolia it resembles, which makes it unusual among modern plants.
Only about 20% now match this, with plants generally having fewer layers, such as the two whorls seen in lilies.