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425-million-year-old fossil found - with 'soft parts' preserved

Find is 'unequivocally male'

Scientists have discovered a fossil water-flea-like relative of the prawns and lobsters - called an ostracod - 425 million years old, complete with its soft anatomy preserved in three dimensions.  [Pic: image of ostracod]

Professor David Siveter of the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester, together with colleagues from the Universities of Oxford and Yale, USA, made the discovery at an undisclosed site in Herefordshire in the Welsh Borderland. The animal lived in a sea that covered most of Wales and central England, at a time when southern Britain was located in subtropical latitudes and near to the North American continent. 

Professor Siveter said: “Ostracods are very common both in the fossil record and today in many aquatic environments, even in garden ponds, but only a handful of fossil specimens with soft parts preserved are known.” 

As reported in the paper published December 5 in the Journal Science, the fossil shows fine details of the body, its limbs, eyes and gills for breathing. Even the sexual organs are preserved, which allows identification of the specimen as a male. It is believed to be the oldest example of a male sexual organ ever discovered. 

Professor Siveter said: “Our understanding of the history of life relies on the fossil record, and most especially on rare fossil deposits that preserve not simply the hard parts of animals but their entire bodies, soft parts and all. This very exciting find pushes back knowledge of the biology of this group of animals by about 200 million years and its anatomy shows that the basic body plan of the group hasn't changed much over all that time. 

“The fact that we can sex the animal also tells us important information about how the animal reproduced". 

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Last updated: 10 December 2003 11:09
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