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Cambridge boffins reveal prehistoric prawn monster

Chinese fossil 'Fuxianhuiid' shows earliest nervous system extending beyond the head

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Scientists in China are celebrating another key discovery after unearthing the fossilised remains of a 520 million year-old arthropod, with what they claim is the earliest example of a nervous system extended beyond the head.

The prawn-like sea creature was found preserved sideways on, enabling Javier Ortega-Hernández and his team of Cambridge University colleagues to get a really good look at the beast – known as a fuxianhuiid.

"Since biologists rely heavily on organisation of head appendages to classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth," said Ortega-Hernández in a statement obtained by LiveScience.

"This is as early as we can currently see into arthropod limb development."

The fuxianhuiid hails from the early Cambrian period – a time of rapid evolution when complex, multicellular organisms became more commonplace - specifically around 50 million years before creatures first crawled out from the sea onto land.

The fossil apparently reveals a creature with primitive limbs under its head, which are thought to have been used for shovelling food into its mouth as it wandered along the sea bed.

The discovery, which was published in Nature last Wednesday, is one of many stunningly well preserved fossils found in a site in south-west China near Kunming called Xiaoshiba. ®

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