The first animals that evolved on Earth were floating, jelly-like creatures, a recipe that has been good for life but not so much for studying it. What researchers know of this mysterious epoch, dating between 580 and 540 million years ago, comes from the impression that these creatures left on what later became sandstone. Now researchers are confident they have found two new species.
The first species has been called Obamus coronatus, honoring President Barack Obama and his support for science. The critter was between 0.5 and 2 centimeters across. It had raised spiral grooves on its surface and did not move. Researchers believe it anchored itself in the organic matter that covered the ocean floor at the time. The discovery is reported in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences (AJES).
The second discovery is dedicated to British naturalist and national treasure, Sir David Attenborough. Attenborites janeae is a tiny ovoid less than 1 centimeter across, with grooves and ridges. The team described them as raisin-like. More information will be published soon in AJES.
"The two genera that we identified are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described," lead author Professor Mary Droser, from the University of California Riverside, said in a statement. "We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal."
These Precambrian animals are often referred to as Ediacara Biota, named after the Ediacara Hills where they were discovered. The hills are part of the Flinders Ranges, the largest mountain range in South Australia, and the first location where these fossils have been found.
"I've been working in this region for 30 years, and I've never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites," Droser said. "The AJES issue on the Flinders Ranges will support South Australia's effort to obtain World Heritage Site status for this area, and this new bed demonstrates the importance of protecting it."