Anomalocaris canadensis, which means “weird shrimp from Canada” in Latin, was first found in the late 1800s. It has long been thought to be responsible for some of the scarred and crushed trilobite exoskeletons in the fossil record.
Lead author Russell Bicknell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History who carried out the research while he was based at the University of New England in Australia, stated, “That didn’t sit right with me, because trilobites have a very strong exoskeleton, which they essentially make out of rock, while this animal would have mostly been soft and squishy.” He was the one who carried out the research.
The ability of A. canadensis to process hard food is questioned by recent research on the animal’s armor-plated, ring-shaped mouthparts. The goal of the most recent study was to see if the predator’s long, spiny front appendages could do the job better.
A 3D reconstruction of A. canadensis from the exceptionally well-preserved but flattened animal fossils discovered in Canada’s 508 million-year-old Burgess Shale was the first step taken by the research team, which included scientists from Germany, China, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The team was able to demonstrate that the predator’s segmented appendages were capable of grabbing prey and could both stretch out and flex by using modern whip scorpions and whip spiders as analogs.
The stress and strain points on A. canadensis’ grasping behavior were depicted using the modeling technique known as finite element analysis, demonstrating that the animal’s appendages would have been damaged while grabbing hard prey like trilobites. The predator’s 3D model was placed in a virtual current using computational fluid dynamics by the researchers to predict its likely swimming body position.
In a scientific paper for the first time, these biomechanical modeling methods are used together to paint a different picture of A. canadensis than was previously thought. The creature was possible an expedient swimmer, zooming after delicate prey in the water section with its front extremities outstretched.
“Past originations were that these creatures would have seen the Burgess Shale fauna as a buffet, pursuing anything they needed to, yet we’re finding that the elements of the Cambrian food networks were reasonable substantially more mind boggling than we once suspected,” Bicknell said.