Reconstruction Illustration of Cambroraster falcatus

A 500-million-year-old ocean predator (artist’s impression) has been revealed in all its strange glory by a hoard of detailed fossils. Credit: Lars Fields/Royal Ontario Museum

Palaeontology

The Millennium Falcon look-alike that terrorized the ancient seas

A predator that loomed large in its day had a domed hull like that of the Star Wars spaceship.

Thanks to a mass of beautifully preserved fossils, scientists have discovered a peculiar ancient predator: a giant of Cambrian times with the silhouette of a spaceship.

The species’ profile evokes a galactic freighter called the Millennium Falcon from the film Star Wars — a resemblance that helped to inspire the second part of the creature’s scientific name, Cambroraster falcatus. Cambroraster, a distant relative of modern insects, measured up to 30 centimetres long, making it many times bigger than most of its contemporaries, according to an analysis by Joe Moysiuk and Jean-Bernard Caron at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The duo examined more than 100 Cambroraster fossils found in Canada’s Burgess Shale, an iconic fossil site that is roughly 500 million years old. It preserves a plethora of creatures from the Cambrian period — which spanned from 541 million to 485 million years ago — when animal diversity exploded.

Many other Cambrian predators filtered their prey from the water or seized it with strong claws. But Cambroraster probably dredged animals out of the sea floor with spiny, built-in rakes near its mouth.