A team of scientists led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside have uncovered fossils from two of the first animals on Earth.
The ancient species — known as Obamus coronatus and Attenborites janeae — lived in shallow oceans between 580 and 540 million years ago. That time frame means they existed with many other simple organisms, including tube-shaped, plant-like creatures and the large, flat Dickinsonia.
O. coronatus was a disc-shaped animal that measured just .5 and 2 centimeters across. It had spiral grooves on its surface and likely stayed in one space on the ocean floor.
In contrast, A. janeae was a small ovoid less than one centimeter across covered in small ridges and grooves.
Scientists discovered both fossils in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges region. Both soft-bodied animals were preserved in fine-grained sandstone that stood the test of time.
“I’ve been working in this region for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites,” said one of the lead author’s Mary Droser, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, according to Astrobiology Magazine.
Both animals are significant because they both represent the dawn of animal life. They also shed light on the Ediacara Biota — an ancient group that is not yet organized into families.
As little is known about the prehistoric animals, they could give scientists a glimpse back into the Precambrian period. Further analysis of the species may also help create a better picture of early animal evolution.
“The two genera that we identified are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described,” said Droser, according to Science Daily. “We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal.”
The discovery of Obamus coronatus is published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, while research on Attenborites janeae is set to come out in the same journal.