London: Eyes belonging to a giant 500 million-year-old marine predator that sat at the top of the earth’s first food chain have been discovered from Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
Scientists at the South Australian Museum and University of Adelaide found the preserved fossil eyes of the fearsome metre-long Anomalocaris in the Cambrian ocean.
They explained that the world’s first apex predator had highly acute vision, rivalling or exceeding that of most living insects and crustaceans.
The international team behind this discovery includes two Adelaide researchers, Dr Michael Lee (SA Museum and University of Adelaide) and Dr Jim Jago (SA Museum and UniSA), and was led by Dr John Paterson (University of New England).
Anomalocaris is the stuff of nightmares and sci-fi movies. It is considered to be at the top of the earliest food chains because of its large body size, formidable grasping claws at the front of its head and a circular mouth with razor-sharp serrations.
The discovery of its stalked eyes - showing astonishing details of its optical design - from a 515 million-year-old deposit on Kangaroo Island in South Australia now confirms it had superb vision to support its predatory lifestyle.
The fossils represent compound eyes - the multi-faceted variety seen in arthropods such as flies, crabs and kin - and are amongst the largest to have ever existed, with each eye up to 3 cm in length and containing over 16,000 lenses.
The number of lenses and other aspects of their optical design suggest that Anomalocaris would have seen its world with exceptional clarity whilst hunting in well-lit waters. Only a few arthropods, such as modern predatory dragonflies, have similar resolution.
The finding will be published in the 8 December 2011 issue of Nature.