Hidden in plain sight, the third tardigrade fossil on record has been found suspended within a 16-million-year-old piece of Dominican amber.
The discovery includes a newly named species, Paradoriforibius chronocaribius, as a relative of the modern living family known as Isohypsibioidea. It is the first tardigrade fossil from our current geological era the Cenozoic which began 66 million years ago.
Under the microscope, tiny tardigrades look like water bears. Although they are commonly found in water — and occasionally, serving as nemesis in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” — tardigrades are known for their ability to survive and even survive. that grow even in the most extreme environments.
These small, tufted animals are no more than a millimeter long. They have eight legs with claws at the end, a brain and central nervous system, and some suckers such as a pharynx at the back of their mouth that can pierce food. Tardigrades are the smallest known animal with legs.
All these details are incredibly well preserved in the new fossil specimen, down to its tiny claws.
“The discovery of fossil tardigrades is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” study senior author and assistant professor of biology at the New Jersey Institute of Technology Phil Barden said in a statement.
“What is so remarkable is that the tardigrade is a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants,” Barden said. “Still, they are like a ghost lineage to paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can see their progress through Earth’s history empirically. Huh.”
The fossil allowed researchers to see evolutionary aspects that are not present in modern tardigrades, meaning they could understand how they changed over millions of years.
At first, the researchers didn’t even notice that the tardigrade was trapped in a piece of amber.
“It’s a faint speck in the amber,” Barden said. “In fact, Podo. Chronocaribius was originally an inclusion hidden in the corner of an amber piece our lab was studying with three different ant species, and it wasn’t seen for months.”
Close observational analysis helped researchers determine where the new species is on the tardigrade family tree.
“The fact that we had to rely on imaging techniques typically reserved for cellular and molecular biology demonstrates how challenging it is to study fossil tardigrades,” said co-authors of Fauna and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. and Assistant Professor Javier Ortega-Hernandez said. a statement. “We hope this work encourages collaborators to look more closely at their amber samples with similar techniques to better understand these cryptic organisms.”
The new species is the first definitive fossil for the modern Isohypsibioidea family of tardigrades found today in both marine and land environments.
“We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding living tardigrade communities, especially in places like the Caribbean where they haven’t been surveyed,” Barden said. “This study provides a reminder that, with as little as we may have in the way of tardigrade fossils, we still know very little about the species living on our planet today.”
Small animals are related to arthropods and have their deep origins during the Cambrian explosion, when several species of animals suddenly appeared in the Earth’s fossil record 541 million years ago. More tardigrade fossils may be hidden within other pieces of amber that have already been studied – researchers just have to look closely enough and have expertise in what they’re looking for when it comes to microfossils.
And tardigrades could outnumber humans. This is because they would be largely unaffected by things that could potentially cause destruction to Earth and human life in the future, such as asteroids, supernovae or gamma ray bursts. As long as the world’s oceans don’t boil, tardigrades will survive.
Credit : www.cnn.com