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Paleontologists in northern China made discoveries redefining the history of the evolution of lampreys, a carnivorous fish, after unearthing two, 160-million-year-old fossils of the species, Science Alert reported.
Lampreys are one of the most ancient living types of animals on Earth. They have been around for at least 360 million years and appear to have undergone little evolutionary change.
They are famous for their feeding behavior, using their circular mouth covered in small sharp teeth to scrape tissues or suck blood from the fish they either prey on or cling onto.
In their paper published in Nature Communications, researchers explained that ancient lampreys only left a “meager fossil record,” and highlighted that the fossils found in the Chinese Yanliao Biota were “superbly preserved”.
The study of these fossils provided new crucial insights into the life and biological evolution of lampreys in the Jurassic era.
Modern lampreys can grow up to three feet in length, but ancient ones used to be just a few inches long and are believed to have primarily fed on algae found on other sea animals.
However, the team found the Jurassic creatures were larger than expected and measured around 25 inches – making them the largest lamprey fossil ever found.
And they were no simple bloodsuckers: Remnants of fish bones in their intestinal tracts indicated that Jurassic lampreys were carnivorous, the oldest noticeable evidence of the animal’s feeding behavior.
Researchers added that the size and other fossil elements might also be evidence that lampreys had already developed a three-stage life cycle that contemporary specimens also have.
The findings also challenge the geographical origin of lampreys, suggesting that modern lampreys may have originated in the Southern Hemisphere.
Clarification: In Tuesday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our “A Tragic Tally” item that 102 women lost their lives in Italy this year. We would like to clarify that the figure represents 102 women who were murder victims. We apologize for the confusion.