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A Football-Shaped Animal Species Is Discovered In A 500-Million-Year-Old Shale

A reconstruction of the <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>, a new species of extinct sea animal discovered in Canada.
A reconstruction of the <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>, a new species of extinct sea animal discovered in Canada.

Paleontologists in Canada have discovered a new species of sea animal that was 1 1/2 feet long and football-shaped, with a large protective shell over its head, a toothed mouth and a pair of spiny claws.

(It's extinct, so you don't have to worry about one of these brushing up against your leg at the beach. Read on.)

The new species — dubbed the Titanokorys gainesi — is believed to be part of a long-gone animal group from the Cambrian period some 500 million years ago.

High up in the mountains of Kootenay National Park, the Royal Ontario Museum fieldwork crew extracts a shale slab containing a fossil of <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>.
Jean-Bernard Caron / Royal Ontario Museum
High up in the mountains of Kootenay National Park, the Royal Ontario Museum fieldwork crew extracts a shale slab containing a fossil of <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>.

According to scientists with the Royal Ontario Museum, who discovered the species in a fossil in Kootenay National Park, located in the Canadian Rockies, the Titanokorys would have been a giant during a time when most sea creatures grew to the size of a pinky finger or smaller.

"The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling, this is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found," said Jean-Bernard Caron, the museum's Richard M. Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, in a statement.

The Titanokorys belongs to a subgroup of primitive arthropods called hurdiids, which have long heads and a three-part carapace, a kind of hard outer shell.

A reconstruction of the <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>, viewed from the front.
Lars Fields / Royal Ontario Museum
A reconstruction of the <em>Titanokorys gainesi</em>, viewed from the front.

"The head is so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads," said Joe Moysiuk, a University of Toronto Ph.D. student who co-authored the study of the new species released this week.

The scientists said the broad, flat head of the Titanokorys suggests it swam near the seafloor, using its front limbs to scoop prey toward its mouth.

A similar species, discovered in the same area in 2018, is named the Cambroraster falcatus, because scientists thought its head carapace resembled the Millennium Falcon, a ship from the movie Star Wars.

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