Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Earth’s First Super-Predators

Anomalocaris

Spanning 1 metre in length, the Cambrian super-predator Anomalocaris patrolled the world’s oceans more than half a billion years ago. Credit: Katrina Kenny

By Allison Daley & John Paterson

The discovery of the world’s oldest apex predators in the oceans more than half a billion years ago is a puzzling story that began well over a century ago. We now have a much clearer picture of these spectacular animals, but the debate about their feeding habits continues.

Allison Daley is a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. John Paterson is a Senior Lecturer at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The classic Australian cliché to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” may well have an origin that dates back much further than expected – to the Cambrian Period over 500 million years ago.

If humans had existed in the Cambrian, walking into a fish market would have been a very different experience. Firstly, it would be called an arthropod market because it was the ancestors of today’s crabs, lobsters and prawns that dominated the oceans more than half a billion years ago. While the earliest fish had made their appearance in the fossil record, it would be tens of millions of years before they would really have their time in the sunlit waters.

Many of the creatures in the ice-filled trays of a Cambrian arthropod market would have been a sight to behold – from spiny trilobites the size of dinner plates to various prawn-like beasts armed with elaborate clasping appendages on their heads.

But perhaps the strangest of all was an animal that would take up an entire tray: Anomalocaris. Considered the “Great White Shark” of the Cambrian oceans, this fellow could probably grow up to a metre in length, with its body consisting of a formidable pair of large, spinose limbs at the front of the head, a circular mouth of plates lined with teeth-like serrations, a pair of stalked eyes, a series of swimming flaps along the length of its body, and tail flukes at the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.