Australian scientists on Thursday said they discovered a pair of insect-like eyes belonging to a freakish prehistoric super-predator called Anomalocaris, which had 16,000 individual lenses.
Researchers found the fossilized eyes in rocks on Australia's Kangaroo Island, which is filled with Cambrian artifacts. The eyes measure 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) across, the Agence France-Presse reported.
Anomalocaris was a top marine predator that roamed the seas more than 500 million years ago. It was basically a huge shellfish-type creature that could grow to about 1 meter.
The giant carnivorous shrimp was considered the great white shark of the Cambrian era and sat at the top of the ancient marine food chain, lead researcher John Paterson , from Australia's University of New England, told AFP.
The journal Nature published the research on Thursday.
Anomalocaris specimens were found before in Canada and China. The specimen found on Kangaroo Island is the first example of an intact eye.
The only creature known to have more lenses than the Anomalocaris is the dragonfly. It has about 30,000.
Paterson said the find shows that the killer shrimp once lived in well-lit, clear waters and that it quickly developed sophisticated vision. Its eyes projected from the side of its head on stalks and it had claws lined with spines. It used this for catching its prey and a gnarly-looking circular mouth with teeth-like serrations inside, Paterson said.
When you look at the animal itself it's quite an alien-looking beast, Paterson told AFP.
Paterson said the Anomalocaris used its serrations for either shredding or chomping up its prey.
So it was a pretty nasty-looking creature, he said.
Last November, researchers said that a new 3-D modeling of the mouth area of the Anomalocaris and evidence showed that those parts weren't hard like teeth. Instead they were flexible, an indication that the predator couldn't have been consuming anything with hard shells.
Additionally, those researchers said there is no evidence from fossilized stomach contents or feces that Anomalocaris' ate anything hard enough to leave a fossilized trace.
Paleontologist James Whitey Hagadorn of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has said that it was this lack of fossil evidence to provide backing for any dietary preference that triggered the investigation.
It was supposed to roam around the Cambrian seas gobbling up trilobites and everything else, Hagadorn said via press release in 2010.
He also said the pineapple-like whorl of mouth parts and the whisker-like appendages of Anomalocaris appeared as if they were bendable, in the fossil remains that is, and are not mineralized like the exoskeletons of the trilobites they were supposedly eating.
Hagadorn develop a 3-D, finite element analysis model of the Anomalocaris mouth based on his suspicion, which allowed for testing how the creature's mouth worked and how strong a bite it had.
It couldn't even close its mouth, Hagadorn said, noting that it wasn't practical for these mouth parts to create the force needed to break open a modern lobster shell nor a shrimp shell.
An Ancestor of Modern Arthopods
Researchers said that the Anomalocaris, which has compound eyes, was an ancestor of modern arthopods. This includes insects and shellfish, Paterson.
He said that at the time of the specimen being trapped on the seafloor Australia, which was then a part of Gondwana supercontinent, was in tropical waters spanning the equator.
Paterson also told the AFP that the site where the discovery was made has a variety of fairly enigmatic specimens are still a mystery to science and were from an early period in animal evolution, making them hard to classify.
The body plans of animals that we're familiar with today were still kind of being tinkered with in the Cambrian, he said. Sometimes they have features that are completely foreign to what you would see in a modern organism.