Nesonektris aldridgei here was one of the bizarre vetulicolians, a group of Cambrian animals that lived between about 520 and 505 million years ago.
Known from the Emu Bay Shale fossil deposits in Kangaroo Island, South Australia (~514 million years ago), Nesonektris was one of the larger known vetulicolians, growing to at least 17cm long (~6.5″). Like most of its relatives it had a large streamlined forebody with a mouth opening at the front, and no obvious appendages or sensory structures. A groove down each side may have housed gill openings, and a segmented flexible tail provided propulsion for swimming.
Very little is known about the ecology of these animals. They were clearly adapted for active swimming in the water column, and may have filter-fed on plankton – but some other vetulicolians have been found preserved with their guts full of seafloor sediment, suggesting some sort of detritivorous lifestyle instead.
Their evolutionary relationships are also still uncertain, but preservation of what appears to be a notochord in Nesonektris suggests that vetulicolians may have been part of the chordate lineage, possibly close relatives of tunicates.
Vetulicolians were a group of odd Cambrian animals known from between about 520 and 505 million years ago. The front half of their bodies were large and streamlined, with a prominent mouth, no eyes, and five pairs of openings that seem to have been gills, with some species having a rigid exoskeleton-like carapace. Their back half was slender, segmented, and flexible, and functioned as a tail for swimming, giving them an overall appearance like alien tadpoles.
Their evolutionary affinities have been problematic for a long time, but evidence of a notochord in some specimens suggest they were probably related to the chordates in some way. Sometimes they’re considered to represent their own phylum, but they might also be stem-chordates or stem-tunicates.
Continue reading “Cambrian Explosion Month #17: Phylum(?) Vetulicolia & Other Early Deuterostome Weirdos”
Vetulicolians were a group of small marine animals best described as “problematic”, known from the Early Cambrian (~518-507 mya) of China, Greenland, Canada, and Australia. They had bulbous but streamlined bodies with a mouth opening at the front, no eyes, a thick exoskeleton-like cuticle, and a segmented swimming tail. Most also had five pairs of openings which may have been gill slits.
The image above depicts Vetulicola rectangulata, a 7cm long (2.75″) vetulicolian with a fairly “typical” body plan for the group, and the more unusual 14cm long (5.5″) Skeemella clavula.
Their evolutionary affinities have been uncertain for a long time, and at different points they’ve been classified as arthropods, chordates, kinorhynchs, basal deuterostomes, or even given their own unique phylum. A genus named in 2014, Nesonektris, has been interpreted as having a possible notochord – making vetulicolians chordates, and potentially placing them close to the tunicates – but their exact relationships are still unresolved.
(Skeemella also complicates matters, having some features considered more arthropod-like than other vetulicolians. But since it’s only known from a single specimen, more fossil material is needed to figure out what’s going on with it.)