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Fossils: Animal found in 500 MILLION-year-old rocks in the Canadian Rockies dwarfed its peers

Huge new animal species discovered in 500 MILLION-year-old rocks in the Canadian Rockies measured 1.6ft long and would have dwarfed other creatures — most of which barely reached the size of a pinky finger

  • Royal Ontario Museum experts have named the creature Titanokorys gainesi
  • It was discovered in the Burgess Shale deposits of the Kootenay National Park
  • Titanokorys had a large head covered in a three-part carapace and spiny claws
  • Researchers believe that it was adapted to hunt for prey close to the sea floor  


The remains of a new species of primitive arthropod that lived 500 million years ago have been discovered in the Canadian Rockies — and it dwarfed its peers.

Swimming the seas of the Earth’s Cambrian period, Titanokorys gainesi reached 1.6 feet in length at a time when most species were only the size of a pinky finger.

Fossils of Titanokorys were found in the ‘Burgess Shale’ of Kootenay National Park’s Marble Canyon by palaeontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum.

The creature had multifaceted eyes, a tooth-lined mouth resembling a slice of pineapple, a pair of spiny claws and a body featuring a series of flaps for swimming.

 The remains of a new species of primitive arthropod that lived 500 million years ago has been discovered in the Canadian Rockies — and it dwarfed its peers. Pictured: an artist’s impression of Titanokorys gainesi as it would have appeared in life. It reached some 1.6 feet in length

Swimming the seas of the Earth's Cambrian period, Titanokorys gainesi reached 1.6 feet in length at a time when most species were only the size of a pinky finger. Pictured: a close-up photograph of a fossilised head carapace from Titanokorys

Swimming the seas of the Earth’s Cambrian period, Titanokorys gainesi reached 1.6 feet in length at a time when most species were only the size of a pinky finger. Pictured: a close-up photograph of a fossilised head carapace from Titanokorys 

TITANOKORYS STATS

Species name: Titanokorys gainesi

Order: Radiodonts 

Lived: 500 million years ago 

Environment: Bottom of the sea floor

Max Length: 1.6 feet (0.5 metres)

‘The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling,’ said paper author and invertebrate palaeontologist Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum.

‘This is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found.

‘Their limbs at the front looked like multiple stacked rakes and would have been very efficient at bringing anything they captured in their tiny spines towards the mouth.

‘The huge dorsal carapace might have functioned like a plough.

‘These enigmatic animals certainly had a big impact on Cambrian seafloor ecosystems.’ 

Titanokorys belongs to a group of primitive arthropods called the radiodonts — the most iconic member of which is Anomalocaris, a streamlined predator that could grow up to 3.3 feet (1 metre) in length.

‘Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterised by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes,’ said paper author and palaeobiologist Joe Moysiuk of the Royal Ontario Museum.

‘The head is so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads.’

Exactly why the hurdiids evolved such a diverse array of head shapes and sizes is still unclear, and it is likely that there were several influencing factors at play.

According to the researchers, the broad, flattened shape of Titanokorys was likely an adaptation for living close to the sea floor.

'Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterised by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes,' said paper author and palaeobiologist Joe Moysiuk of the Royal Ontario Museum. Pictured: the type specimen of Titanokorys, showing the head carapace (bottom) and the two symmetrical rigid plates that would have covered the underside of the creatures head, either side of its claws

‘Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterised by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes,’ said paper author and palaeobiologist Joe Moysiuk of the Royal Ontario Museum. Pictured: the type specimen of Titanokorys, showing the head carapace (bottom) and the two symmetrical rigid plates that would have covered the underside of the creatures head, either side of its claws

Titanokorys had multifaceted eyes, a tooth-lined mouth resembling a slice of pineapple, a pair of spiny claws and a body featuring a series of flaps for swimming

Titanokorys had multifaceted eyes, a tooth-lined mouth resembling a slice of pineapple, a pair of spiny claws and a body featuring a series of flaps for swimming

'The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling. This is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found,' said paper author and invertebrate palaeontologist Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum, pictured here in the field

 ‘The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling. This is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found,’ said paper author and invertebrate palaeontologist Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum, pictured here in the field

First studied less than a decade ago, the fossil-rich Burgess Shale deposits of Marble Canyon have yielded a variety of animals dating back to the Cambrian Period.

Among their number is a smaller but more abundant relative of Titanokorys which researchers named Cambroraster falcatus — a nod to how its head carapace resembles the Millennium Falcon spacecraft from the Star Wars franchise.

Professor Caron and his team believe that Cambroraster and Titanokorys likely competed for similar prey at the bottom of the seafloor.

Fossils of Titanokorys and other specimens recovered from the Burgess Shale will be showcased in a new gallery that will open at the Royal Ontario Museum in December.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. 

Fossils of Titanokorys were found in the ' Burgess Shale' of Kootenay National Park's Marble Canyon by palaeontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum

Fossils of Titanokorys were found in the ‘ Burgess Shale’ of Kootenay National Park’s Marble Canyon by palaeontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum

First studied less than a decade ago, the fossil-rich Burgess Shale deposits of Marble Canyon have yielded a variety of animals dating back to the Cambrian Period

First studied less than a decade ago, the fossil-rich Burgess Shale deposits of Marble Canyon have yielded a variety of animals dating back to the Cambrian Period

THE INCREDIBLE PRESERVATION OF THE BURGESS SHALE 

Pictured: an artist's impression of the Cambrian seas, showing Anomalocaris (top), Hallucigenia (bottom right) and Opabinia (bottom left)

Pictured: an artist’s impression of the Cambrian seas, showing Anomalocaris (top), Hallucigenia (bottom right) and Opabinia (bottom left)

The Burgess Shale is a fossil-bearing rock deposit that outcrops in the Canadian Rockies.

The rock unit — a black shale — was deposited in an ancient sea some 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian Period of Earth’s history.

It is famous for its exceptional preservation of fossils — and is one of the oldest-known deposits to contain evidence of soft-bodied creatures.

Many strange-appearing species of animals have been found preserved in the shale, including the large and streamlined predator Anomalocaris, the segmented Opabinia and the alien-looking, spiny Hallucigenia. 

The Burgess Shale outcrops in a number of location near the town of Field in the Yoho National Park and the Kicking Horse Pass, as well as in the Kootenay National Park to the south. 

The deposits were first discovered in the August of 1909 by the palaeontologist Charles Walcott. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1980.

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