520 million-year-old swivel-eyed predator carried earliest cardiovascular system, say experts

By Culture24 Reporter | 08 April 2014

A prehistoric predator fossil discovered by scientists may have set the pattern for the earliest living animals

A photo of the blood system of an insect
A reconstruction of the cardiovascular system (red), nervous system (blue) and digestive system (green) in Fuxianhuia protensa© Trustess of the Natural History Museum
An 11-centimetre predator from the Cambrian Explosion of 520 million years ago – notable for its movable eyestalks, containing concentrations of nerve tissue within them – has been found to have the earliest cardiovascular system in a living animal, according to Natural History Museum scientists investigating an anthropod fossil found in China.

A photo showing a colour and black and white scan of the anatomy of an ancient insect
The fossilised cardiovascular system© Trustess of the Natural History Museum
X-rays on the F. protensa, which is related to modern insects, spiders, lobsters and millipedes, have shown a dark carbon outline of a heart, brain, eyes, antennae and legs. Blood vessels moved oxygen and nutrients around these vital organs, carried by a creature which could rotate its eyestalks in a wide arc, allowing it to see in different directions.

“This is a significant discovery,” said Dr Xiaoya Ma, a palaeontologist from the museum who, as the lead author of the research, is hoping to use the findings to draw new conclusions about evolution.

“The exquisitely-preserved cardiovascular structures of F. protensa allow us to make direct comparison with other arthropods alive today, which has revealed the ancestral basic pattern for the wide range of cardiovascular systems seen in modern arthropods.

“This cardiovascular system is closely linked to the brain, eyes and antennae of the animal, showing a high demand for oxygen from these highly active parts of the body.”

Co-author Dr Greg Edgecombe called the specimen “really unusually preserved.”

“The external structures of the animal were relatively decayed away and are preserved as an imprint of the body, but one single internal organ system is pristinely preserved as carbon trace,” he added.

“We had to rule out what it wasn’t, and were left with the cardiovascular system. Then everything fell into place.”

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