Did you think sci-fi movies were becoming rather conventional when it comes to monsters? Worry no more, as Hallucigenia is here to look straight in the eye and give nightmares to the faint of heart.
For the first time, experts were able to put a face on the strange fossil of a creature that presumably lived half a billion years ago. Distantly related to nowadays crustaceans and insects, Hallucigenia is not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, starting from its bare, needle-like teeth, to its mesmerizing simple blank eyes.
It may be a little animal – only five centimeters long – but it sure looks unearthly with its sleek, worm-like body and its seven clawed legs. On the back, Hallucigenia was sporting pointy long spines.
Discovering the fossil back in the 1970s created commotion and confusion among the scientists who tried to reconstruct the creature in any way they could, even upside down or backwards.
At first, they thought that Hallucigenia’s spines were its legs, and its actual legs were mistaken for long tentacles along the creature’s back. Funniest of them all, the sleek head was thought to be a tail, so the new discovery surely shed some light on how the animal actually might have looked like.
Hallucigenia’s head, however, wat the one giving scientists working with computer-generated models a serious headache, especially the strange beast’s face. In order to get to the bottom of this, Hallucigenia fossils underwent thorough microscopic examination in the laboratories of the Smithsonian Institution in the US and the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada.
Jean-Bernard Caron, one of the leading researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum, said it was a rather surprising experience to have the 508-million-old fossil examined in the electron microscope.
After professionally cleaning it of the mud it presumably died in, experts hoped they could identify the eyes. But they even more surprised to also see the bare teeth literally smiling back.
Resulting images showed a long head sporting two simple eyes about a mouth containing teeth – which were also going down the animal’s throat. According to the article published on Hallucigenia in the journal Nature, scientists believe the teeth probably helped the creature suck the food in.
Cambridge University Martin Smith, senior author of the study, pointed out that what was believed to be the head of the specimen turned out to not even be part of the body, but a round dark stain of decayed fluids that came out of the animal during the flattening process of the fossilization.
Image Source: Fossil Museum