Scientists Discover Rare 430-Million-Year-Old Crustacean Fossil With A Perfectly Preserved Respiratory System

International research conducted by scientists from Oxford, London, Yale, and Leicester has given the world a rare discovery after a very small and 430-million-year-old crustacean fossil was found in Herefordshire, UK, which still has intact soft spots that are perfectly preserved.

The fossil that was discovered is extremely tiny at just a few millimeters in length and was shown to belong to a new species of ostracod that can claim both shrimp and crabs as close relatives. As report, the truly remarkable thing about this particular fossil is that not only is the hard shell of the crustacean preserved, but its gills, gut, eyes, and limbs are also still completely intact.

It is exceptionally rare to find ostracods that still have their soft spots attached after 430 million years, and in the case of this particular crustacean, it was discovered to still have its full respiratory system, including five pairs of gills with canals. This suggests that at this time 430 million years ago, hearts must have already evolved in such crustaceans.

This tiny and special crustacean fossil has been called Spiricopia aurita, which in Latin means “breath of life,” “abundance,” and “ears.” Professor David Siveter, who works at the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, described how very rare it is to encounter such a fossil with soft spots still remaining after hundreds of millions of years.

“This is an exciting and rare find, in which the soft parts of the animal are preserved as well as its shell. In almost all cases such fleshy structures are denied to the fossil record. It gives us a tantalizing window into the palaeobiology of the animal and here yields knowledge about important organ-systems and associated metabolic activities in what is a widespread group of fossil and living arthropods.”

Dr. Mark Sutton, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London and one of the scientists who was involved in the discovery of the 430-million-year-old crustacean fossil, noted that it is extremely rare to find soft tissues remaining in invertebrate groups, according to ICL.

“This locality has produced a spectacular series of three-dimensional soft-bodied fossils, which have provided critical information on the evolution of all sorts of invertebrate groups, not least ostracods. It can’t be stressed too highly that finding the soft tissues of these organisms is a vanishingly rare occurrence. Every time we find a new animal from these rocks, we learn something new, and usually something unexpected.”

Spiricopia aurita once lived within the sea that would have covered most of the area where southern Britain now is 443-420 million years ago during the Silurian period. However, while volcanic ash killed off many of the sea creatures there, it also fortunately preserved some of them, like this crustacean, for hundreds of millions of years.

The new study describing the discovery of the 430-million-year old crustacean fossil called Spiricopia aurita has been published in Biology Letters.