Hallucinogenic worms

The molecularly defined clade Ecdysozoa1 comprises the panarthropods (Euarthropoda, Onychophora and Tardigrada) and the cycloneuralian worms (Nematoda, Nematomorpha, Priapulida, Loricifera and Kinorhyncha).

I mentioned yesterday that one of my students, Akihiro, had been making a round of any Cambridge and London museums with any sort of scientific or technological bias, amongst them the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science.

And by coincidence there was a story in yesterday’s national press regarding breakthroughs in the understanding of a primitive and bizarre worm-like creature of the mid-Cambrian, hallucinogenia sparsa, based on work undertaken at the Cambridge department of Earth Sciences.

Hallucinogenia sparsa has been known to science from the fossil record for over one hundred years, and was one of the most common creatures in the seas of the mid-Cambrian, over half a billion years ago (it is a commonplace fossil in the celebrated Burgess Shale). But it is of such strange design (if I can be permitted the word) that for most of that hundred-year period it has been variously read both as upside-down and back-to-front.

Scientists at Cambridge have now righted the hallucinogenic ship, so to speak, identifying eyes and mouth parts in what had previously been regarded as its rear. In this short film, Dr Martin Smith of the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge explains how the discovery was made and something of the history of the creature, speaking from the Sedgwick Museum itself.

Read more about the hallucinogenic worm here.