Ancient rangeomorph animal networks, new research


This 7 March 2020 video says about itself:

Rangeomorphs had no mouths, guts, arms, legs or reproductive organs, but an ancient “network” of strings may have helped them dominate the ocean floor anyway.

Some of the earliest animals on Earth may have used social networks to chat with each other, review food — and yes — maybe even sext.

In a study published Thursday (March 5) in the journal Current Biology, researchers looked at hundreds of rangeomorphs — bizarre, fern-like animals that lived in large colonies on the bottom of the ocean from about 571 million to 541 million years ago — fossilized along the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. To the team’s surprise, many of the fossil specimens appeared to be connected to each other by long, string-like filaments never seen among animals this old. Individual filaments spanned anywhere from a few inches to 13 feet in length and connected rangeomorphs from seven different species, forming a primitive “social network” of deep-sea dwellers.

These organisms seem to have been able to quickly colonize the seafloor, and we often see one dominant species on these fossil beds. These filaments may explain how they were able to do that.

Rangeomorphs are thought to be some of the earliest non-microscopic animals on Earth, spreading prolifically 635 million to 541 million years ago, despite having no noticeable mouths, guts, reproductive organs or means of moving around.

Scientists think the creatures dug into the mud on the ocean floor, passively sucking nutrients out of the water using symmetrical, leaf-like branches. Their methods worked well, apparently, as rangeomorph colonies dominated huge plots of the seafloor for 30 million years. Different species ranged from less than 1 inch to 6.5 feet in length, and some may have physically changed shape to better capitalize on the nutrients available around them.

Because rangeomorphs never really moved around, the fossil record includes entire colonies of the creatures preserved as they actually lived. When professor at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences Alexander Liu and his colleagues found fossilized filaments connecting rangeomorphs at 38 different dig sites, it became clear that this sinewy “network” played an important role in connecting individual colony members.

Further study of rangeomorph fossils is required to unravel the mystery of these filaments; alas, it seems this social network is password-protected.

See here. And here.

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