Lorna O’Brien doesn’t need to wait for springtime to see tulips. O’Brien, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto, has been studying an ancient animal that bears an uncanny resemblance to the flower that we associate with the coming of spring. The new genus and species Siphusauctum gregarium lived in the sea 500 million years ago, and had a long stalk that was anchored to the ocean floor. At the top of the stalk was a bulbous “head,” called a calyx. O’Brien, working with Jean-Bernard Caron, the curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, conducted a detailed analysis of 1,133 S. gregarium fossils found in Canada’s Burgess Shale. The two paleontologists believe that this ancient creature sucked in water through its calyx, filtering out food particles and directing them to its stomach. Siphusauctum released its waste through an anus at the tip of the bulb. This feeding mechanism makes these animals unique and their classification among other known animals remains uncertain. We do know that they lived in clusters and, due to the layers of fossilized mud in which the fossils were found, they probably died when a mudflow buried them.
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The original article is published in the electronic journal PLoS ONE.