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Image Gallery: Bizarre Cambrian Creature

Small sea life

cambrian fossil

(Image credit: Andrew Smith, Proc. Royal Soc. B)

In 2012, researchers unearthed a 520-million year old fossilized creature that is one of the earliest known echinoderms with fivefold symmetry.

Ancient find

Anti-Atlas mountain region in Morocco

(Image credit: Andrew Smith)

The animals skeleton had long since disintegrated, but it left a characteristic impression in the sediments of the Moroccan Anti-Atlas Mountains.

Primitive creature

cambrial fossil

(Image credit: Andrew Smith)

The creature, dubbed Helicocystis moroccoensis, had five spiral grooves along its body that it opened and closed to capture food.

Strange symmetry

A cambrian fossil echinoderm

(Image credit: Andrew Smith)

Earlier fossils had spiral arrangement of those grooves, or ambulacra, but not the distinctive five point symmetry found in sea urchins, starfish, and other echinoderms.

One of many

a Cambrian fossil called helicocystis moroccoensis

(Image credit: Andrew Smith)

The new creature may help shed light on when and how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans.

Explosion of life


(Image credit: Esben Horn)

Helicocystis moroccoensis is just one of many primitive creatures that emerged during the Cambrian explosion, a period when the number of species on the planet exploded. Bizarre shrimplike sea monsters known as anomalocaridids grew up to 6 feet long and filled the Cambrian seas.

Ancient insects


(Image credit: Yie Jang (Yunnan University))

Another strange creature, a 500-million year old sea creature known as a fuxhianhuiid, had limbs under its head. Throughout the Cambrian period, life experimented with many wacky body plans.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.