The creature belongs to an obscure and mysterious group of animals known as the chancelloriids, and scientists are unclear about where they fit in the tree of life.
They represent a lineage of spiny tube-shaped animals that arose during the Cambrian evolutionary “explosion” but went extinct soon afterwards. In some ways they resemble sponges, a group of simple filter-feeding animals, but many scientists have dismissed the similarities as superficial.
It was surprisingly large in life (perhaps up to 50 cm or more) but had only a few very tiny spines. Its unusual “naked” appearance suggests that further specimens may be “hiding in plain sight” in fossil collections, and shows that this group was more diverse than previously thought. Paper. (paywall) – Pei-Yun Cong, Thomas H. P. Harvey, Mark Williams, David J. Siveter, Derek J. Siveter, Sarah E. Gabbott, Yu-Jing Li, Fan Wei, Xian-Guang Hou. Naked chancelloriids from the lower Cambrian of China show evidence for sponge-type growth. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2018; 285 (1881): 20180296 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0296 More.
If a number of specimens do turn out to be hiding in plain sight, the chancelloriids may turn out to have lasted longer too.
See also: Researchers: Cambrian explosion was not an explosion after all
The Cambrian explosion is back on again and Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt is doing well too