Scientists have just discovered strange ‘bramble-snouted’ creatures that predate dinosaurs in a field of Welsh sheep


These tiny marine fossils date from 460 million years ago, when an ocean covered the whole of Wales.

National Museum of WalesA representation of the new species, nicknamed Mieridduryn Boniae.

While excavating a sheep field at Llandrindod Wells, Powys, Wales, researchers found two delicate 460-million-year-old fossils dating to when an ocean covered the country. Although scientists believe they resemble an extinct marine life form called opabiniids, they think the fossils represent a new species.

What fis.org explains, researchers Joseph Botting and Lucy Muir, fellows at the National Museum of Wales, made the exciting find during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“When the lockdown started, I thought I’d take one more trip to collect some sponges before finally writing them down,” Botting explained. “[O]Of course, that was the day I found something that was pulling its tentacles out of a tube.

“This is the kind of thing that paleontologists dream of, the preservation of truly soft bodies,” Muir added. “We didn’t sleep well that night.”

In a study published in nature communications, the researchers explained that they had found two fossils while excavating the field, a known source of ancient sponges. One was about half an inch long, while the other was only 0.1 inches. Although the smaller specimen has not been named pending further investigation, the researchers named the larger fossil Mieridduryn Boniae.

Joseph Botting and Lucy Muir

National Museum of WalesDr Joseph Botting and Dr Lucy Muir are Honorary Researchers at Amgueddfa Cymru, National Museum of Wales.

The first half of its name is Welsh for “bramble-snouts” (mier, meaning bramble, and duryn, meaning snout), a nod to the creature’s pointed nose. The second half of its name is a tribute to Bonnie, the niece of the owners of the field where Botting and Muir found the fossils.

“Many scientific names are made from Latin or Greek words,” Muir explained to phys.org, “but we really wanted to honor Wales, where the specimens were discovered, so we decided to use the Welsh language.” He added that Bonnie had been supportive and invested in her research.

prehistoric welsh fossil

National Museum of WalesThe smaller of the two specimens, measuring only a tenth of an inch in length.

So what exactly are the fossils that Botting and Muir found? According to living sciencethey bear some resemblance to “weird wonders” called opabiniids, extinct sea creatures that arose during the Cambrian explosion.

But the Welsh species, which lived during the Ordovician period (about 485.4 million to 443.8 million years ago), is 40 million years younger than the opabinids and has some important differences. M.boniae it has no eyes, for example, while opabinids usually have five eyes. And what is more, M.boniae it has a pointed snout, while opabinids have smooth snouts.

“It could be an opabiniid,” said Joanna Wolfe, a research associate in Harvard University’s Department of Organic and Evolutionary Biology who co-authored the new study. living science. “[But] perhaps it is neither an opabiniid nor a radiodon, it is something in between”.

fossils in the ground

National Museum of WalesThe curious specimens were found in a Welsh quarry known for producing ancient sponges, and the researchers are eager to keep looking for more fossils.

In fact, researchers have speculated that the fossils might be more like arthropods, a group that includes modern crabs, spiders and millipedes.

“The best supported position for our Welsh specimens, whether considered as one or two species, was more closely related to modern arthropods than to opabiniids,” Stephen Pates of the University of Cambridge told phys.org. lead author of the study. These analyzes suggested that mieridduryn and the smallest specimen were not ‘true’ opabiniids.”

The researchers also hypothesized that the smaller of the two fossils could be larvae from the larger one. M.boniae sample.

“The size of the smallest specimen is comparable to that of some modern arthropod larvae; we had to take this possibility into account in our analyses,” Wolfe explained to phys.org.

Whatever the Welsh fossils, they represent an important link in the evolution of life on Earth. And Botting and Muir can’t wait to get back to the sheep field to search for more evidence of ancient life. As Muir quipped to phys.org, even modern mammals seem intrigued by his research.

“Even the sheep know we’re in for something special here,” he said, “they usually come to watch.”


After reading about the fossils found in a field of Welsh sheep, see how rabbits burrow in Wales. Skokholm Island discovered a trove of Stone Age artifacts. Then, learn about the planet Earth most amazing prehistoric animals.

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