Brain of World’s First Known Predators Discovered

An international team of paleontologists has identified the exquisitely preserved brain in the fossil of one of the world’s first known predators that lived in the Lower Cambrian, about 520 million years ago. The discovery revealed a brain that is surprisingly simple and less complex than those known from fossils of some of the animal’s prey.

The find for the first time identifies the fossilized brain of what are considered the top predators of their time, a group of animals known as anomalocaridids, which translates to “abnormal shrimp.” Long extinct, these fierce-looking arthropods were first discovered as fossils in the late 19th century but not properly identified until the early 1980s. They still have scientists arguing over where they belong in the tree of life.

"Our discovery helps to clarify this debate," said Nicholas Strausfeld, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science. "It turns out the top predator of the Cambrian had a brain that was much less complex than that of some of its possible prey and that looked surprisingly similar to a modern group of rather modest worm-like animals."

Strausfeld, a Regents’ Professor in the Department of Neuroscience in the UA College of Science, is senior author on a paper about the findings, which appear in the July 17 issue of Nature.

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