An artist’s reconstruction of ‘Anomalocarisbriggsi swimming within the twilight zone © Katrina Kenny

Read later


During Beta testing articles may only be saved for seven days.

Ancient marine creatures with radiating teeth also had complex compound eyes

Ancient deep-sea creatures called radiodonts had incredible vision that likely drove an evolutionary arms race according to new research published today.

The study was led by Professor John Paterson from the University of New England’s (UNE) Palaeoscience Research Centre but involved an international team. The Natural History Museum London’s palaeontologist, Dr Greg Edgecombe, worked with the team at UNE to examine specimens from the South Australian Museum.

Through interpreting the fossils and creating species reconstructions they found that radiodonts developed sophisticated eyes over 500 million years ago, with some specially adapted to the dim light of deep water.

Dr Edgecombe explains, 'The Australian material is unique among the dozens of occurrences of radiodonts around the world in the Cambrian Period, because it's the only place where the visual surface of the eye is preserved.’

'In other sites in China, Canada, the USA and elsewhere, only the outline of the eyes is known but there's no information on their lenses.'

Radiodonts, meaning “radiating teeth”, are a group of arthropods that dominated the oceans around 500 million years ago. The many species share a similar body layout resembling elongated prawns with conical teeth arranged in a circle around the mouth. But over the past few decades many new discoveries — including whole radiodont bodies — have given a clearer picture of the various species’ anatomies highlighting their diversity.

Professor Paterson, UNE, comments, ‘When complex visual systems arose, animals could better sense their surroundings, that may have fuelled an evolutionary arms race between predators and prey. Once established, vision became a driving force in evolution and helped shape the biodiversity and ecological interactions we see today.’

Dr Edgecombe adds, ‘These specimens have shown us that the animals’ feeding strategies previously indicated by the appendages -– either for capturing or filtering prey – are paralleled by differences in the eyes. The predatory radiodont in our samples has the eyes attached to the head on stalks but one that filter feeds has them at the surface of the head. The more we learn about these animals the more diverse their body plan and ecology is turning out to be.’ 

‘The new samples also show how the eyes changed as the animal grew. The lenses formed at the margin of the eyes, growing bigger and increasing in numbers in large specimens – just as in many living arthropods. The way compound eyes grow has been consistent for more than 500 million years.’

The study “Disparate compound eyes of Cambrian radiodonts reveal their developmental growth mode and diverse visual ecology” was published today in the prestigious journal Sciences Advances and is available here.

Notes to editors

Natural History Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / 07799690151 Email:  

Images available to download here.

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet.

The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research into every aspect of the natural world. Their science is contributing critical data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the major threats of climate change and biodiversity loss through to finding solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome over five million visitors each year; our digital output reaches hundreds of thousands of people in over 200 countries each month and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 30 million people in the last 10 years.