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A giant Ordovician anomalocaridid



Anomalocaridids, giant lightly sclerotized invertebrate predators, occur in a number of exceptionally preserved early and middle Cambrian (542–501 million years ago) biotas and have come to symbolize the unfamiliar morphologies displayed by stem organisms in faunas of the Burgess Shale type. They are characterized by a pair of anterior, segmented appendages, a circlet of plates around the mouth, and an elongate segmented trunk lacking true tergites with a pair of flexible lateral lobes per segment1,2. Disarticulated body parts, such as the anterior appendages and oral circlet, had been assigned to a range of taxonomic groups—but the discovery of complete specimens from the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale showed that these disparate elements all belong to a single kind of animal3. Phylogenetic analyses support a position of anomalocaridids in the arthropod stem, as a sister group to the euarthropods4,5,6. The anomalocaridids were the largest animals in Cambrian communities. The youngest unequivocal examples occur in the middle Cambrian Marjum Formation of Utah7 but an arthropod retaining some anomalocaridid characteristics is present in the Devonian of Germany5. Here we report the post-Cambrian occurrence of anomalocaridids, from the Early Ordovician (488–472 million years ago) Fezouata Biota8 in southeastern Morocco, including specimens larger than any in Cambrian biotas. These giant animals were an important element of some marine communities for about 30 million years longer than previously realized. The Moroccan specimens confirm the presence of a dorsal array of flexible blades attached to a transverse rachis on the trunk segments; these blades probably functioned as gills.

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Figure 1: Anomalocaridid specimens from the Lower Ordovician Fezouata formations.

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S. Butts (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History) provided access to specimens. M. Ben Said Ben Moula originally discovered the specimens and made them available for study; he, together with J. P. Botting-Muir and L. A. Botting-Muir, P. J. Orr, C. Upton and J. Vinther also assisted with fieldwork, and B. Tahiri arranged logistical support. J. W. Hagadorn shared information on anomalocaridid size and R. R. Gaines discussed aspects of the taphonomy. E. Champion helped with the preparation of figures. This research was supported by a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration grant and by Yale University.

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The authors contributed equally to interpreting the fossils and writing the paper. P.V.R. played the primary role in field work, and prepared, photographed and drew the specimens.

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Correspondence to Derek E. G. Briggs.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Van Roy, P., Briggs, D. A giant Ordovician anomalocaridid. Nature 473, 510–513 (2011).

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