Paleontologists find earliest evidence of cannibalism

The earliest evidence of cannibalism was found among 514-million-year-old trilobite remains in Emu Bay, off the coast of South Australia. A group of Australian and European scientists not only found many wounds in the shells of the trilobites, but also fossil excrement containing fragments of the shells of their relatives, apparently produced by the same trilobites. From all this it follows that the emergence of cannibalism must be attributed to the early Cambrian, 50 million years earlier than previously thought. An article about this was published in the journal. Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology.

Cannibalism is common among millions of modern arthropod species. Thus, the female praying mantis eats her mate after mating, termites suck blood from injured relatives, and mosquitoes feed on the larvae. Previous studies have linked the earliest cannibalism to the late Ordovician period, about 450 million years ago. But it has now been revealed that during the Cambrian period, 514 million years ago, the “king” of the trilobites ate anything it could get its hands on, including armored creatures of its own kind.

The characteristic fossilized food left in the guts of extinct organisms is considered by paleontologists the best evidence that one animal ate another. However, such fossils are rare. In this case, the scientists were lucky: the fossil-rich region in Emu Bay had the most favorable conditions for preserving such evidence – fossil injuries and fossilized feces. Trilobites had a hard exoskeleton, like modern armored arthropods like horseshoe crabs or lobsters. When the trilobites managed to repel the attack, their shells preserved bite marks and locations of missing body parts.

Russell Bicknell, a paleontologist at the University of New England in Australia, and colleagues focused on studying such healed wounds in two types of trilobites – Redlichia takoensis and redlichia rex. After collecting 38 fossils of the two species from fieldwork at Emu Bay and from the South Australian Museum collection, the scientists looked for patterns that could tell the nature of the attacks.
– who was the aggressor in this or that case, he managed to fight. Wounded small trilobites were never found – they were already found in fossilized feces, also called coprolites. At the same time, the most active cannibal was the 25 cm “king of the trilobites”. R.RexMost of the tiny trilobite remains were found in his feces.

However, trilobites could not simply be cannibals, otherwise this species would not have existed for long. They probably attacked their relatives in conditions of lack of other resources.

Source: Gazeta


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