Scientists finally figure out what that mysterious bug-eyed ancient creature was all about
Neither shrimp nor vertebrate, Nectocaris pteryx was actually a type of mollusk.
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Nectocaris is most likely a stem group cephalopod, meaning it broke off from the evolutionary tree before the last common ancestor of modern cephalopods, said paleontology graduate student Martin Smith of the University of Toronto, who led the study.Skip to next paragraph
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The most striking structure of Nectocaris is the large funnel-shaped nozzle that swivels and expels water to propel the body at high speeds.
The unusually preserved eyes of Nectocaris are known as camera-type eyes, like those found on squids. The large eyes and nozzle suggest that Nectocaris must have had a rather large brain to power these features.
Cephalopods are active predators with the most advanced nervous system known among invertebrates. They use camouflage, change their shape, surface pattern, texture, and color and are "extremely agile in the way they react to their environment. They really are masters of camouflage," Bengston told LiveScience.
Cephalopods are unique in developing jet propulsion, and the discovery of the nozzle on Nectocaris suggests jet propulsion evolved before shells in modern cephalopods. While most modern cephalopods are shell-less, the fossil record is skewed toward hard-shelled cephalopods, because their tough shells make them more likely to be preserved.
Nectocaris has other cephalopod features, such as a pair of flexible tentacles near the mouth, gills, and a body perfect for swimming. However, it is missing a number of modern cephalopod traits, such as a ring of tentacles around the mouth, a beak, a toothed tongue (known as a radula), and an ink sack or suckers.