Scientists have solved a 500-million-year-old mystery about strange Cambrian structures found in China

More than 500 million years ago, sea-dwelling invertebrates pioneered a new evolutionary experiment: skeletons. But while those tough, tube-like structures have stood the test of time as fossils, the animals’ soft bodies shriveled up and disappeared, erasing all evidence of what these ancient animals might have looked like. Now, a recent re-examination of those ancient skeletal tubes has finally revealed the identity of one of these mysterious beings.

These calcium-enhanced “skeletal” tubes date to a period known as the Cambrian Explosion (541 million to 510 million years ago) and appear to have been an effective survival strategy, appearing in multiple groups over a relatively short period of geological time (about 50 million years). During this period, everything from the segmented ancestors of earthworms to the bizarre ancient relatives of gaiters created protective tube-like structures.

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