A major fossil discovery that is more than 500 million years old is believed to be a major turning point in the evolution of vertebrates. The fossilized fish, which is called as Metaspriggina by the Canadian Researchers and that dates back to the Cambrian period (around 505 million years ago), shows a pairs of exceptionally well-preserved arches near the front of its body.

Study co-author Jean-Bernard Caron, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada said, “For the first time, we are able to say this is really close to this hypothetical ancestor that was drawn based on a study of modern organisms in the 19th century.”

“Its a real turning point in the evolution of vertebrates — it allowed the group to diversify and be successful and get to the top of the food chain,” He added.

Fossils of Metaspriggina were recovered from a number of locations, including the Burgess Shale site in Canada’s Rocky Mountains — one of the richest Cambrian fossil deposits in the world. Which then were named in 1993 as it was thought to be related to Spriggina from the Ediacaran fauna of Australia, dated at 560 million years old.

Metaspriggina looked more like a worm on an angler’s hook than a fish and was about 6cm long; bore a pair of large protruding eyes and small paired nasal capsules. In precarious seas inhabited by huge predators such as Anomalocaris, Metaspriggina’s ability to swim fast was no doubt a key factor in its success. It breathed through seven pairs of external gills and had a stout rod supporting its spine enabling strong W-shaped muscle bands to develop along its entire body.

It is believed that this primeval creature lived during a period from 543 million to 493 million years ago known as the Cambrian Explosion, the evolutionary “big bang” when almost all complex life appeared.

David Wilks, Member of Canadian Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia, noted, “The Government of Canada is excited about this incredible fossil find. As an international leader in conservation and steward of the Burgess Shale, Parks Canada is pleased to provide its research partners with access to the fossils. Their remarkable discoveries inform the work we do to share this rich natural history through our popular guided hikes and to protect this important Canadian heritage in a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.” There’s much more to be learned about the creatures yet, and only time will tell what the fossil reveals.

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