Fossils of giant shrimp relative found in Morocco

Morocco is making headlines with more than just its incredible performance at this year’s World Cup. At Taichoute in the fossil-rich Fezouata Shale formation in the Zagora region of Morocco in southeastern Morocco, a new fossil find fills some gaps in evolutionary history.

Fezouata Biota is the name of a unique assemblage of fossilized animals found in this region, including Early Ordovician radiodonts, lobopodians, nectapidites, and marellomorphs. The larger Fezouata Shale formation is home to the remains of numerous large “free-swimming” arthropods that dominated Earth’s seas about 470 million years ago. These are relatives of modern-day shrimps, insects, and spiders.

A study published today in the journal Scientific Reports describes the early evidence found at the site. While more research is needed to analyze these fragments, giant arthropods can reach up to 1.5 meters in length, which is new meaning for the term jumbo shrimp.

[Related: World’s Oldest Fossils Show Sulfur-Based Microbes Lived 3.4 Billion Years Ago, Presenting a New Target for Astrobiology.]

The team says the findings at Taichoute open up new avenues for the study of paleontology and ecology.

“Everything about this region is new – its sedimentology, paleontology and even the preservation of fossils – further emphasizing the importance of the Fezouata Biota in completing our understanding of past life on Earth,” said Farid Saleh, PhD student in paleontology. According to the statement made by the University of Lausanne and Yunnan University.

According to the team representing multiple countries, this site and its fossil record are very different from other Fezouata Shale sites previously described and studied. Researchers have found post-Cambrian fossils at other settlements about 50 miles from Taichoute.

Newly discovered site from Fezouata Shale. CREDIT: Bertrand Lefebvre.

Palentologist and co-author Xiaoya Ma from the University of Exeter said, “Although the giant arthropods we discovered are not yet fully described, some may belong to the previously described Fezouata Biota species, and some will certainly be new species.” A statement from Yunnan University. “Still, their large size and free-swimming lifestyle suggest they play a unique role in these ecosystems.”

Fossils found in these rocks include harder shells and some well-preserved soft body parts such as internal organs. These discoveries are helping scientists study the anatomy of early animal life on Earth and how it has changed over time. The animals here lived in a shallow, stormy and rough sea that buried their remains and preserved them in place. However, free-floating (or nektonic) animals are actually a relatively minor component overall in the Fezouata Biota.

[Related: A Scottish fossil is helping scientists fill the gaps in the lizard family tree.]

This new study reveals that Taichoute fossils are preserved in sediments dominated by fragments of giant arthropods, which are several million years younger than other discoveries in the Zagora region. Underwater landslides delivered the carcasses of these animals to the deeper marine environment.

“The fact that animals such as brachiopods have been found attached to some arthropod parts suggests that these large carapaces served as food stores for the seafloor community after they died and lay on the seafloor,” said Allison Daley, a paleontologist at the University of California. Lausanne, in a statement.

According to the team, this new species is a surprising discovery, even for seasoned paleentologists.

“Fezouata Biota continues to surprise us with new unexpected discoveries,” said Bertrand Lefebvre, a senior author of the paper and a palentologist at the University of Lyon.

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