A group of scientists taking part in an expedition in South China has recently discovered the fossil of a worm that looked ferocious and had a spiky armor. The worm, according to the scientists, used to live during the Cambrian period i.e. around 542 to 488 million years ago.

The research team responsible for making this discovery consisted of scientists from UK’s University of Cambridge and China’s Yunnan University. Together, they announced the story of the discovery in a press release on Tuesday.

The newly discovered worm is known as Hairy Collins’ Monster. It has been named after Desmond Collins, a paleontologist who discovered a creature similar to the Hairy Collins’ Monster in Canada way back during the 1980s.

Prehistoric Worm

The fossil unearthed in China reveals that the ancient creature had a worm-like body with 72 pointed spikes covering it. In addition, the Hairy Collins’ Monster had as many as six pairs of appendages in its front. On its back, it had nine more pairs of appendages and a feature-like structure. The appendages on the worm’s back were tipped with sharp claws.

The researchers have theorized that the Hairy Collins’ Monsters used to live a sedentary lifestyle, which made them easy targets for creatures positioned higher on the food chain. According to them, these prehistoric worms developed sharp spikes on their body and back over time for protecting themselves against possible predators.

The fossil discovered in South China, according to the scientists, is relatively intact. It shows the unique spiked body of the ancient creature quite clearly. The researchers could see even minute details like the worm’s digestive tract and the tiny hair-like structures covering its front limbs.

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It’s believed that Collins’ Monster is a distant relative of the modern-day velvet worms, creatures that are often referred to as onychophoran. Velvet worms are found in the tropical forests. They also share their ancestry with Hallucigenia sparsa; the sparsas, like the Collins’ Monsters, were creatures of the Cambrian era and had worm-like bodies covered with sharp spikes.

For those who don’t know: last Wednesday, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Cambridge announced that they have succeeded in reconstructing the complete anatomy of Hallucigenia sparsa using advanced electron microscopes.