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“This new species would have been an efficient predator and a terrifying sight to many of the smallest marine creatures that lived during that time,” said Jean-Bernard Caron, senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the ROM.
The 500-million-year-old critter has been dubbed Capinatator praetermissus, which incorporates Latin words for to grasp, swimmer and overlooked.
Capinatator was about 10 centimetres long with 25 spines on each side of its head.
“If you imagine putting your two hands together at the wrist and opening your fingers in a sort of curved manner and bringing them together, you get the idea of what these grasping spines might look like,” said Derek Briggs, with the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Chaetognaths are small, swimming marine carnivores that are also known as arrow worms. They represent a separate, major phyla of animals. Capinatator is one of the largest chaetognaths known, living or fossil. At more than 500 million years old, Capinatator is thought to be a forerunner of the smaller chaetognaths that are abundant in today’s oceans, where they make up a large portion of the world’s plankton and the ocean food chain.
The researchers said Capinatator’s head configuration is unique. It has about 25 spines in each side of its head — nearly double the maximum number of spines in today’s chaetognaths. The researchers said Capinatator captured prey by closing the two halves of its grasping spines toward each other as it swam.