Fossils of a formidable marine worm, dubbed “terror beast,” have been unearthed, shedding light on a fearsome creature that ruled the seas over 500 million years ago. The recently discovered carnivorous worm, named Timorebestia koprii, was found in northern Greenland, and a study detailing its characteristics was published in the journal Science Advances on January 3.
Thriving during the early Cambrian period, approximately 541 to 485.4 million years ago, this predator boasted a unique anatomy. With fins lining both sides of its body and elongated antennae, Timorebestia could reach lengths of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters), making it one of the largest aquatic creatures of its era.
According to Jakob Vinther, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol, Timorebestia held a significant position in the ancient food chain, comparable to today’s top marine predators like sharks and seals. The fossils were discovered in the Sirius Passet formation of Greenland, providing exceptional preservation that allowed scientists to analyze the digestive systems of these ancient creatures.
The findings revealed that Timorebestia primarily feasted on marine bivalved Cambrian arthropods known as Isoxys. Remarkably well-preserved samples even showed a fossilized worm with an Isoxys still in its jaw region. Isoxys, equipped with protective spines, attempted to evade predators, but Timorebestia proved to be a formidable hunter, consuming them in substantial quantities.
By utilizing electron beams, researchers exposed a nerve center known as the ventral ganglion on the belly of T. koprii. This feature, crucial for controlling locomotory muscles, is shared with modern arrow worms, or chaetognaths, a group of tiny marine worms. The study suggests that Timorebestia koprii is a distant relative of contemporary chaetognaths, despite the notable difference in the location of their jaws.
Luke Parry, a paleobiologist at Oxford University and co-author of the study, highlighted the significance of Timorebestia and its counterparts in bridging the gap between organisms that, while closely related, exhibit striking differences in their present-day forms.