The world’s oldest known starfish is 480 million years old, unearthed in Morocco and provides the ‘missing link’ between modern crinoids and their ancestors.
- Fossil specimens were unearthed from shale rock in the Anti-Atlas Mountains
- Experts have named the newly identified species ‘Cantabriaster phaseoutensis’
- It had five, winged arms that were wider than those found on modern starfish.
- This discovery may help shed light on how starfish and related animals evolved
One study reported that a fossilized starfish in Morocco is 480 million years old, a ‘missing link’ between modern-day crinoids and their ancestors.
Experts in Cambridge said the fossil – exposed from within the so-called Fezauta shale of the anti-Atlas mountain range – is the oldest known star.
It dates back to a period in Earth’s history – the so-called Ordovian biodiversity event – when life suddenly expanded.
Researchers said that the previous contenders for the oldest starfish specimen on record were 50 million years old.
Looking at the scientific name ‘Kentbrigiaster phaseoutensis’, the ancient species has a complex design, with wings still visible in its fossil specimens.
The beautifully preserved remains will allow paleontologists to extrapolate the bodies of the new species in detail – and shine a light on how starfish evolved.
One study reported that a fossil starfish (pictured) in Morocco is 480 million years old, a ‘missing link’ between modern-day crinoids and their ancestors.
‘Evolutionary palaeoecologist Aaron Hunter of the University of Cambridge said,’ This missing link to his ancestors is incredibly exciting. ‘
‘If you went back in time and put your head under the sea to the Ordovian, you would not recognize any of the sea creatures – except starfish, they are one of the first modern animals.’
According to the researchers, c. Fauzoutensis lacks nearly 60 percent of the features of a modern starfish body plan – rather than a starfish and hybrid of crinoid or ‘sea lily’.
Sea lilies are wavy-armed filter-feeders that resemble plants, in which they are attached to the seabed through a cylindrical ‘stem’.
Dr. “The level of detail in the fossil is amazing – its structure is so complex that it took us a while to learn its importance,” Hunter said.
In his study, Drs. Hunter and his colleague Javier Ortega-Hernández – formerly of Cambridge, now based at Harvard University in the US – c. Checked out a list of hundreds of starfish-like animals with ferazatensis.
They indexed all their physical characteristics to assess how they related to other members of the ‘echinoderm’ family – a diverse group including sea cucumbers and starfish.
Like most modern species, the fossil has a five-fold symmetry – but this ancestral form had broad arms with almost a five-pointed outline.
The team plans to expand its work in search of other early echinoderms.
Cantrabigiaster fezouataensis dates back to a period in Earth’s history – the so-called Ordovian biodiversity event – when life suddenly expanded
According to the researchers, c. Fausoutensis lacks nearly 60 percent of the characteristics of a modern starfish body plan – looking like a hybrid between a starfish and a ‘sea lily’
Dr. Hunter commented, “One thing we hope for in the future is that Starfish has developed its five arms.”
‘Adopting them seems to be a constant shape – but we don’t yet know why.’
‘We still need to continue to search for the fossil that gives us that special connection – but by going back to early ancestors like Cambridgeiaster, we are getting closer to that answer.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Biology Letters.
‘Evolutionary palaeoecologist Aaron Hunter of the University of Cambridge said,’ This missing link to his ancestors is incredibly exciting. Figure, researchers hunted starfish fossils in the Fijouta shell (left) of the Anti-Atlas Mountains (right)
Experts in Cambridge said the fossil – exposed (highlighted) from a location within the so-called Fezauta shale of the anti-Atlas mountain range – is the oldest-known starfish