500-million-year-old worm 'superhighway' discovered in Canada

News | 2/26/2019 | Staff
marisha (Posted by) Level 3
The sea bed in the deep ocean during the Cambrian period was thought to have been inhospitable to animal life because it lacked enough oxygen to sustain it.

But research published in the scientific journal Geology reveals the existence of fossilized worm tunnels dating back to the Cambrian period­­ 270 million years before the evolution of dinosaurs.

Discovery - USask - Professor - Brian - Pratt

The discovery, by USask professor Brian Pratt, suggests that animal life in the sediment at that time was more widespread than previously thought.

The worm tunnels—burrows where worms lived and munched through the sediment—are invisible to the naked eye. But Pratt “had a hunch” and sliced the rocks and scanned them to see whether they revealed signs of ancient life.

Rocks - Area - Mackenzie - Mountains - Northwest

The rocks came from an area in the remote Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories in Canada which Pratt found 35 years ago.

Pratt then digitally enhanced images of the rock surfaces so he could examine them more closely. Only then did the hidden “superhighway” of burrows made by several different sizes and types of prehistoric worm emerge in the rock.

Millimetre - Size - Others - Finger - Ones

Some were barely a millimetre in size and others as large as a finger. The smaller ones were probably made by simple polychaetes—or bristle worms—but one of the large forms was a predator that attacked unsuspecting arthropods and surface-dwelling worms.

Pratt said he was “surprised” by the unexpected discovery.

Time - Evidence - Populations - Worms - Sediment

“For the first time, we saw evidence of large populations of worms living in the sediment – which was thought to be barren,” he said. "There were cryptic worm tunnels—burrows—in the mud on the continental shelf 500 million years ago, and more animals reworking, or bioturbating, the sea bed...
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