Ancient Comb Jelly Bones?

Comb jellies, soft-bodied marine creatures that swim by beating rows of cilia, may once have had a hard skeleton.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst was managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyiWIKIMEDIA, BRUNO C. VELLUTINIModern ctenophores, or comb jellies, are entirely soft-bodied, consisting simply of a mass of jelly surrounded by a layer of cells. But comb jellies that lived more than 450 million years ago may have had some hard skeletal parts, according to a study published last week (July 10) in Science Advances.

Examining six ctenophore fossils from the Cambrian Period, researchers identified eight rigid plates at one end, surrounding a sensory organ that responds to the Earth’s gravitational pull, as well as eight spoke-like projections. “One of the species even had robust spines,” coauthor Quiang Ou, a paleobiologist at the China University of Geosciences, told The Verge.

The function of the hard plates and spokes remains unclear, though the authors speculated that the structures may have served as some sort of armor or a buffer against harsh environmental conditions. The ancient comb...

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