Gallery: Prehistoric Predator Had Dual-Purpose Pinchers

Yawunik kootenayi
Yawunik kootenayi in the field. (Image credit: Robert Gaines)

An extinct marine predator called Yawunik kootenayi is the first new species reported from the stunning Marble Canyon fossil site in British Columbia's Kootenay National Park. Yawunik is the most abundant of the large new species discovered at the Marble Canyon site, and thus held a key position in the food chain when alive, researchers think. Here are images of this amazing creature. [Read the full story about the discovery.]

The marine creature lived 508 million years ago during the Cambrian Period. Yawunik were active predators that hunted and grabbed their prey with their dual-purpose front appendages. The limbs could grasp and also were equipped with sensory organs — the whiplike flagella on the end of the appendages. (Photo credit: Jean-Bernard Caron)

Yawunik would have moved its front appendages backward and forward, spreading them out during an attack and then retracting them under its body when swimming, the researchers think. (Photo credit: Danielle Dufault)

The fossils are a mix of original organic material and minerals that replaced parts of the anatomy of the creature. A scanning electron microscope enabled the scientists to map the fossils in great detail. Shown here is a close-up of the front limb and flagella. (Photo credit: Jean-Bernard Caron)

A close-up of Yawunik's head. The four black circles are its two sets of eyes. (Photo credit: Jean-Bernard Caron)

Cédric Aria (left), Jean-Bernard Caron (middle) and Karma Nanglu (right) cut the fossil-laden stone with rock saws. The researchers would then break slabs into smaller pieces with sledgehammers and chisels. (Photo credit: Jesse Chadwick)

The new creature was named Yawunik kootenayi to honor the Ktunaxa People who live in the Kootenay area where the Marble Canyon fossils were found. Yawu'nik is a central figure in the Ktunaxa creation story. (Photo credit: Jesse Chadwick)

The Marble Canyon fossil site is located in British Columbia's Kootenay National Park. The exact location of Marble Canyon is being kept secret to prevent people from taking fossils. The Royal Ontario Museum is building a new display that will feature the fossils. (Photo credit: Royal Ontario Museum)

Follow Becky Oskin @beckyoskin. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+

Becky Oskin
Contributing Writer
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.