About 200 million years ago, a leech released a slimy mucous cocoon that unwittingly encased and trapped a bizarre animal with a springy tail, preserving it for eternity, or until researchers discovered the teardrop-shape creature in Antarctica recently.
The critter most closely resembled the genus Vorticella, more specifically, Vorticella campanula, whose rapidly contracting stalk was found to be one of the world's fastest cellular engines.
Teensy bell animals like this one, Vorticella, also sport a nucleus inside the main body.
The bell animal was trapped inside a leech cocoon, much like this one.
The cocoon was found in the Timber Peak section of the Transantarctic Mountain Range. When the bell animal was alive, this area would have been a dense rain forest, as Earth was much warmer back then.
The Triassic Vorticella-like fossil (square in image focuses on the creature encased in cocoon) seen inside the cocoon wall. Like other eukaryotes, the Vortella animal was equipped with a nucleus, in this case a large horseshoe-shape nucleus inside the main body (C).
Past research has suggested Vorticella's coiled stalk, which is used to attach to substrates, may be one of the fastest cellular engines known, changing from a telephone wirelike structure to a tight coil at a speed of about 8 centimeters per second — the equivalent of a human being walking the across more than three football fields in one second. In that research, MIT's Danielle Cook France and colleague used high-speed microscopes and special chemicals that could freeze the stalk in mid-coil, allowing them to take snap-shots of the stalk (shown here) as it contracted.
Here, live Vorticella visualized using a high-speed microscope developed at MIT.