Canada, earliest mollusc fossil ever found

From the Globe and Mail:

Mollusc fossils push back evolution, ROM scientists say

Life 560 million years ago more advanced than previously believed, article says


Two Canadian paleontologists have discovered dozens of fossils of a soft-bodied, deep-sea dweller that lived more than half a billion years ago, adding one more piece to the enigmatic puzzle that is the history of life on Earth.

The 189 well-preserved fossil specimens of Odontogriphus omalus have been interpreted as the world’s oldest known soft-bodied mollusc, and were found in British Columbia’s mountains in the Burgess Shale, one of the most important fossil sites in the world.

The newly discovered fossils are remarkable, one of the researchers notes, because there are perfect impressions of all of the animal’s soft tissues.

The fossils show the early mollusc had an oval body ranging in size from a few millimetres to 20 centimetres with simple gill-like structures surrounding a muscular sole or “foot” on the underside.

The stomach, intestines, outer membrane and mouth are all visible.

This discovery pushes back the history of animal evolution tens of millions of years to 560 million years ago in Precambrian time (543 million years ago and earlier), according to the Royal Ontario Museum‘s David Rudkin, co-author of the article published in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

Very few fossil specimens have been found from that time period.

The Cambrian Period (543 million to 490 million years ago) marked the sudden appearance of complex multicellular macroscopic organisms.

In the Precambrian era, before the so-called explosion, organisms were thought to be much simpler, but this study shows that was not the case.

“This is a crucial interval in evolutionary history because it seems to represent a time in which a great deal happened,” he said.

“Odontogriphus seems to be a late holdover that somehow got preserved in with the creatures from the Cambrian . . . opening up new windows on evolution for us,” Mr. Rudkin said.

The specimens were collected over 15 years in the late 1980s and 1990s by the ROM and, upon closer examination, were found to have distinguishing “molluscan” features including a specialized feeding structure called a radula, made up of short rows of small, tooth-like elements that would wave and sweep food into the mouth.

The shell-less molluscs grazed on seafloor bacterial growths.

Odontogriphus, which translates to “toothed riddle” was originally discovered in 1976 from a single, poorly preserved specimen.

Until now, it has been described as an “enigmatic organism,” according to the study’s lead author, Jean-Bernard Caron, also of the ROM.

“Our study redescribes and reinterprets previously unrecognized features that link Odontogriphus to the molluscs, one of the most diverse and important groups of animals living today,” Dr. Caron said.

Odontogriphus predates modern-day molluscs — with 200,000 living species today including snails, clams, squids and octopuses — which began to develop hard shells during the Cambrian Period to survive.

“They were the last of their kind and they were dying out because the sea floor was changing and all these other animals started developing hard parts and new strategies for dealing with predators,” Mr. Rudkin said.

“The successful molluscs are those that branched off and developed shells.”

New discoveries on palaeozoic hederellid fossils: here.

Pre-Cambrian Chinese fossils: here.

A deficiency of oxygen and the heavy metal molybdenum in the ancient deep ocean may have delayed the evolution of animal life on Earth for nearly two billion years: here.

New Link Between The Evolution Of Complex Life Forms On Earth And Nickel And Methane Gas: here.

Indian pre-palaeozoic fossils: here.

Life on Earth may have sparked into existence as early as 4.4 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years sooner than previously thought possible, according to a study to be published Thursday: here.

Where did life’s building blocks come from? And how did they connect four billion years ago? Mineralogist Bob Hazen thinks he has the answers: here.

Pre-palaeozooic predators: here.

6 thoughts on “Canada, earliest mollusc fossil ever found

  1. Paleontology: On a Burgess Shale Fossil Riddle

    A faint shade on a piece of shale from British Columbia, Canada,
    has haunted paleontology for 30 years. This is the fossil of
    Odontogriphus, the half-a-billion-year-old “toothed riddle” from
    the Cambrian Burgess Shale, which has never really found peace
    within the evolutionary scheme of animals. With a poorly
    preserved body, it was mainly known through peculiarly arranged
    tooth-like spines, hypothesized to be the stiff supports of a
    cluster of tentacles. New work presents new fossils of the
    “toothed riddle”.

    Full report at


  2. Ecology: On the Ecosystem Deep Beneath the Seafloor.
    Over the past 20 years, scientific drilling into sediments and
    basaltic crust all over the world ocean has revealed the
    omnipresence of microscopic life deep beneath the seafloor.
    Diverse communities of prokaryotic cells have been discovered in
    sediments and rock reaching a subsurface depth of 1 km. Most of
    these microorganisms have no cultured or known relatives…
    Full report at


  3. Pingback: Cambrian fossil relative of today’s molluscs discovered | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Oldest egg clusters ever found in China | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: Austerity destroys Brazilian national museum | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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