An Early Cambrian problematic fossil: Vetustovermis and its possible affinities

Jun-yuan Chen, Di-ying Huang, David J Bottjer

Abstract

The Early Cambrian problematic fossil Vetustovermis (Glaessner 1979 Alcheringa 3, 21–31) was described as an annelid or arthropod. Anatomical analysis of 17 new specimens from the Lower Cambrian Maotianshan Shale at Anning, Kunming (South China) does not support its affinities with annelids or arthropods. Anatomical features instead resemble other animal groups including modern flatworms, nemertines and molluscs. The presence of a pelagic slug-like form and ventral foot, as well as a head with eyes and tentacles indicates a possible affinity with molluscs, but these characters are not present only in molluscs; some of them are shared with other animal groups, including flatworms and nemertines. For example, a ventral foot-like structure is found in nemertines, ‘turbellarians’, and some polychaete groups. The well differentiated head is seen in separate bilaterian groups, but among molluscs it did not occur before the evolutionary level of the Conchifera. Unlike the ctenia-gills in molluscs, the gills in Vetustovermis are bar-like. All the characters displayed in this 525 million-year old soft-bodied animal fail to demonstrate clear affinity with molluscs or any other known extant or extinct animal groups, but argue for representing an independently evolved animal group, which flourished in Early Cambrian and possibly in Middle Cambrian time.

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Footnotes

    • Received April 19, 2005.
    • Accepted May 11, 2005.
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