New fossils discovered by Dr. Jakob Vinther, a lecturer in macroevolution at the University of Bristol, David Harper, a professor at Durham University, and Dr. Nicholas Longrich with the University of Bath prove that the Cambrian top predator, Tamisiocaris borealis, was a suspension feeder according to a March 26, 2014, report in the journal Nature.
Tamisiocaris borealis lived between 520 million and 480 million years ago. The group of animals ranged in size from tiny to gargantuan.
A three-dimensional computer animation based on the newly discovered fossil verified that Tamisiocaris borealis and potentially many of the other anomalocarids, a type of early arthropod, were suspension feeders.
The animals had large appendages in front of their mouths that evolved from grasping to suspension feeding. This adaptation allowed some of the anomalocarids to reach enormous size and become the apex predators of the Cambrian oceans. The net like mouth appendages brought food to the animal’s mouth.
This is one of the few fossil discoveries that are complete enough to determine physical function and evolutionary adaptation in such an ancient animal. The discovery is also the first known example of suspension-feeding in ocean animals.
The fossil proves that anomalocarids were not an evolutionary dead end but instead produced some of the largest and most long-lived animals that came out of the Cambrian Explosion.