A “shriveled” animal without an anus that was thought to be part of humanity’s family tree is actually not, scientists announced Wednesday.
Saccorhytus coronarius is a 500-million-year-old microscopic, spiny sea creature that resembles the popular characters in the movie “Minions.”
According to a new study from the University of Bristol, researchers have discovered that the fossil should be placed in an entirely different animal group.
An international team of researchers described Saccorhytus as a “spiky, wrinkled sac, surrounded by spines and holes” with gill openings – a primitive feature of the Deuterostome group, from which human ancestors also evolved.
But analysis of Chinese fossils has shown that the holes are actually the bases of vertebrae that broke off during fossilization.
“Some fossils are so perfectly preserved that they almost look alive,” Yunhuan Liu, a professor of paleobiology at Chang’an University, wrote in a news release. “Sacoritas was a curious animal, with a mouth but no anus, and a complex ring of spines around the mouth.”
The findings, continue to be published, provide important revisions to early phylogenetic trees and understanding of how life evolved.
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“It’s a little bit confusing,” Emily Carlisle, a researcher who has studied saccorites in detail, told the BBC. “(Most) ecdysozoans have an anus, so why didn’t this one have one?”
An alternative, he told the outlet, is that an earlier ancestor of this entire group did not have an anus, and that saccharitus evolved later.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @natalialund.