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The secret life of Nectocaris

The 505-million-year-old Burgess Shales of British Columbia are justifiably famous for the exquisite preservation of their fossils — and the extreme oddity of many of them, such as Anomalocaris and Hallucigenia, which for many years defied classification, and formed the basis of Stephen Jay Gould’s book Wonderful Life. These and many other fossils have since been found homes alongside modern invertebrate phyla. Another of Gould’s ‘weird wonders’ was Nectocaris. The few fossils available for study looked like a chordate fused with an arthropod. Now, with ninety new specimens collected by the Royal Ontario Museum to examine, Martin Smith and Jean-Bernard Caron suggest that Nectocaris, too, can be given a place in the order of things. Its anatomy suggests a relationship with cephalopods — a group that includes the octopus, cuttlefish, and extinct ammonites. And with paired camera-type eyes, flexible tentacles and jet-propulsion via a ‘nozzle’, the predatory animal looks rather like a squid but with two rather than eight or ten tentacles. [Letter p. 469: News & Views p. 427; www.nature.com/podcast]

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