Paleontologists have discovered the fossil of a four-eyed, lobster-like creature with super-long claws and tentacles! This powerful predator lived long before dinosaurs, and it is related to today’s butterflies, ants, spiders and lobsters. The researchers found the fossil in Marble Canyon, British Columbia, Canada and named the creature Yawunik, after a fierce marine creature in the mythology of the Ktunaxa, the native people of the region. The large number of Yawunik fossils in one place told paleontologists it must have been a successful predator.
The paleontologists are particularly interested in the front arms of Yawunik because they seem to have two functions: sensing prey and catching it. Each arm has three long claws. Two of the claws have rows of teeth for catching prey. Extending from each of the claws are long whip-like parts called flagella. These flagella would have acted like feelers, sensing when food was nearby. According to one of the discoverers, “This dual function is very, very special, because it does not appear in modern forms.” Modern insects or crustaceans have separate limbs for grasping and sensing, and special parts on the head for chewing up food. The specialized front arms would have been able to move forward during an attack and retract underneath the body while swimming. Animation company Phlesch Bubble worked with the paleontologists to create this video showing how Yawunik moved.
To reach the fossils, the paleontologists used rock saws, sledgehammers and chisels. They also used high-tech scanning electron microscopes to see much more detail than they could with the naked eye. The electron microscopes let paleontologists study the composition of atoms in the fossils and surrounding rock, which tells paleontologists about the environmental conditions that preserved these fossils so well.
Yawunik and other fossils from this site will help scientists figure out how animals and ecosystems evolved on earth. The exact location is a secret right now, but the Yawunik fossils will be on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.