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Scientists discover head of extinct worm Hallucigenia

They put a pretty cute face on this otherwise terrifyingly bizarre creature.


Cynthia McKelvey

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 25, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 11:56 am CDT

The Cambrian explosion is known among scientists as a time when evolution went a little crazy. There was an amazing diversity of life, and the poster child for the time was a critter so bizarre that scientists named it “Hallucigenia.” Fifty years after its original discovery, scientists have finally characterized its head.

Only a couple inches long, Hallucigenia skittered along the ocean floor 508 million years ago. When it was first discovered, researchers thought that it walked using the spikes on its back and that its legs were tentacles. They couldn’t differentiate head from tail.

According to New Scientist, Hallucigenia earned its name because it resembled a creature that Simon Conway-Morris, the paleontologist who discovered it, saw on a trip—and he didn’t mean a vacation.

Using electron microscopy, researchers in the U.K. and Canada finally know what its face looked like. It had “teeth around its mouth, a pair of simple eyes, and teeth inside the throat-like area of its gut, to aid in digestion,” according to The Verge. The researchers suggested that it probably used its mouth to suck up whatever food and that the teeth helped move it to the gut, but there wasn’t a lot of chewing happening.

And the spindle-like spines on its back? Probably used for defense, the researchers told The Verge.

The study appeared in the journal Nature, with an accompanying video of how the animal may have walked.

Kind of cute, right? But imagine stepping on that thing while wading in the beach today—makes you a little glad that Hallucigenia is now extinct.

Screengrab via nature video/YouTube

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*First Published: Jun 25, 2015, 3:09 pm CDT