A 500 million-year-old fossilized sea worm was recently discovered in Utah. The ancient worm more than likely glided through the oceans in the Cambrian period, which is estimated to have been from 541 million to 485.4 million years ago. The age is marked by the surge of new life on Earth. The discoverer, Rhiannon LaVine, credited her love for the sci-fi novels as her inspiration for the genus name- the Shaihuludia Shurikeni. Obviously, in homage to the Shai Hulud sandworms of Arrakkis from Frank Herbert‘s “Dune.”
The fossil was found while researchers were excavating in the Spencer Shale, a thick geological formation along the northern Utah, southern Idaho border. LaVine was working in the area as a research associate for the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. “I split open one of these pieces of rock and instantly knew it was something that wasn’t typical,” she said. Upon discovery of a flower-like design, researchers were uncertain if it came from a living creature.
The specimen found was roughly 7 to 8 centimeters long, much smaller compared to the fictional creature they were named after. LaVine and the other researchers diligently analyzed the fossil with a special microscope to produce a highly detailed image. The research team determined the specimen was a new species of annelid, or worm segment. Their findings were published on April 8th in the journal Historical Biology. Annelids from the Cambrian period are extremely rare to find in North America.
While this may not be the first time a rare and ancient fossil has been found in the Spencer Shale, it is very cool. And nerdy. About 90 species of Cambrian trilobites and soft-bodied fossils have been found since the 1900s. The last notable discovery was ancient bottom-feeder shaped like a wine glass in 2017. Perhaps this ancient sea worm played a large role in the ocean, long before humans and other creatures took over land.