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David Attenborough gets a namesake: the oldest known relative of living animals

560-million-year-old fossil creature shares traits with both modern jellyfish and corals.

If you visited the oceans more than 500 million years ago would find yourself in an alien world. Beings with quilted folds of soft tissue sat on the seabed like rugs and life forms that looked like fronded plants but were actually animals made anchor on the ocean floor. But one organism might be somewhat familiar a stalked creature with waving tentacles resembling those of a jellyfish.

The newly described fossil of this organism named Auroralumina attenboroughii after naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough is between 556 million and 562 million years old and may be the oldest example of an evolutionary group still living today.When co author and University of Oxford paleobiologist Frances Dunn saw a cast of the fossil she says It was instantly clear that this was really special and really rare. With other fossils from the Ediacaran period between 635 million and 541 million years ago her first impression often is is this? How can I relate this to anything thats alive today? But with this specimen she thought know what this is.

Classical scientific wisdom places the origin of modern animals about 539 million years ago during whats called the Cambrian explosion. At this time creatures with specialized tissues organs guts and symmetrical left and right sides all traits we recognize in the animals of today began popping up.In more recent years fossil finds from the earlier Ediacaran period have begun to challenge this dogma. Thats especially true of creatures that could be classified as cnidarians a group of marine animals that includes todays jellyfish corals sea anemones. One goblet shaped creature with a tangle of tentacles called Haootia quadriformis dates to about the same age as A. attenboroughii but its relatively poor preservation makes its exact relationship to existing animals hard to parse.

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