|Marco Foronda |||May 07, 2015 03:34 AM EDT|
(Photo : Martin Smith) This fossil shows the new species, Ottoia tricuspida.
Scientists discovered a new species of the toothed "penis worm," Ottoia tricuspida (O. tricuspida), by studying the fossilized teeth unearthed from different locations, according to a study published by the Palaeontology journal on Wednesday.
Paleontologists of the University of Cambridge in England closely looked at the teeth of the penis worm fossils to determine its difference from the previously identified species, the Ottoia prolifica (O. prolifica).
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The team studied 40 fossils dug from the Upper Walcott Quarry and are now housed in the Smithsonian Institution and 70 fossils unearthed from the Lower Walcott Quarry and are now in display at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Lead researcher Martin Smith profiled the fossils' teeth as in a dentist's handbook using a microscope and noted unexpected differences.
For instance, the Lower Walcott Quarry specimens had some teeth with a central prong supported by two thin, hollow "denticles" or small tooth-like masses. In contrast, the Upper Walcott Quarry samples had about eight denticles surrounding the corresponding tooth.
These differences, albeit small, were enough to confirm a new species belonging to the phylum priapulida, scientists said. The fossils from the Lower Walcott Quarry were then categorized as O. tricuspida.
Fossils of the first identified species, O. prolifica, measured only a few inches long, according to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
In addition, rows of teeth, tiny hooks, and spines were attached on its proboscis, while the whole of its mouth could be inverted into its trunk. This allowed O. prolifica to eat hyolithids or shelled creatures.
Experts also noted that penis worms might have cannibalized their kind.
Penis worm fossils were first discovered in 1911 by paleontologist Charles Walcott in the Burgess Shale, a rock formation in the Canadian Rockies.
The fossils shared rocks with fossils of other bizarre critters like velvet worms and trilobytes of the Cambrian period in that geologic location.
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