Get Regular Updates!
Search

Earth

image|

Claude Bernard University, Lyon

One starfish to rule them all

One starfish to rule them all

At 480 million years old, this fossil is the oldest starfish-like creature ever discovered.

One starfish to rule them all

Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest starfish-like fossil.

The ancient animal – known as Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis – is the ancestor of all living starfish and brittle stars on the planet.

UWA adjunct research fellow and Cambridge University visiting postdoctoral researcher Dr Aaron Hunter led the research.

He says the specimen was first collected in the early 2000s by Berber farmers turned fossil hunters in the Moroccan desert.

“It’s a fossil that’s perplexed me for many years,” Aaron says.

View Larger
Image|University of Cambridge
Researchers scour the Fezouata fossil site in Morocco, where Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis was uncovered

Starfish ancestor

The turning point came while Aaron was studying living specimens of sea lilies or crinoids – a close relative of starfish.

The specimens were collected off WA’s northern coast and stored at the WA Museum.

“I looked at their arms and I thought, well, that looks familiar to this fossil that I have in my collection,” he says.

“It was about the time I realised this fossil … could actually be the ancestor of all starfish-like animals.”

To test the theory, Aaron and his team examined starfish fossils from 480 million years ago to 350 million years ago.

“The result was that, yes, it really is this missing link,” he says.

An alien ocean

If you had a time machine and went back to the period C. fezouataensis is from, there would be no life on land, Aaron says.

“On the land, it would be a dead continent,” he says. “No plants, nothing there.”

If you donned a snorkel and put your head underwater, the ocean would be filled with bizarre animals.

“You wouldn’t recognise anything … it’d be like something out of an alien film. But in the middle of that, you would recognise your starfish,” Aaron says.

“They may well be one of the first modern animals ever to appear on our planet.”

Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis
. Credit: Collections of the Claude Bernard University Lyon 1
View Larger
Image |

Collections of the Claude Bernard University Lyon 1

Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis
… the oldest starfish-like creature ever discovered
. Credit: Collection of Yale University
View Larger
Image |

Collection of Yale University

… the oldest starfish-like creature ever discovered

Starfish on a stick

Aaron says C. fezouataensis likely descended from crinoids, which resemble a starfish on a stick.

“Crinoids are like a starfish. They have arms, they have these little tube feet … but they have a stem,” he says.

C. fezouataensis is the first animal to lose the stem, put its mouth on the surface and adopt a starfish body plan, Aaron says.

“It’s quite an amazing discovery,” he says.

Aaron named Cantabrigiaster after the two cities of Cambridge – one in the UK and one in the US.

“We’ve acknowledged that all of these amazing scientists who worked in both cities over the last 100 years or so or more were involved in trying to resolve this problem,” he says.

“We didn’t know where starfish came from.”

Fossils for sale

Aaron says the first C. fezouataensis fossil landed on his desk through a friend who had picked it up on a field expedition. Later, a series of specimens were put up for sale through an online auction website.

A Yale University professor recognised the importance of the fossils, bought them himself and donated them to Yale.

It allowed Aaron to access the fossils for his research.

“We rescued a huge chunk of the specimens,” he says.

View Larger
Image|Dr Aaron Hunter
Dr Aaron Hunter in Morocco

Despite studying fossils all over the world, Aaron believes some of the most beautiful brittle stars ever preserved are from WA’s Gascoyne Junction.

“I’d call that iconic level,” he says. “It really is beautiful because they’re so big.”

Particle Puns

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?