Ancient shrimp had amazing eyes

Half a billion years ago, sea creatures fled from a terrifying new creature: a gigantic primordial shrimp with pin-sharp vision. It is one of the oldest known animals with compound eyes, the hallmark of modern insects and crustaceans.

Anomalocaris – the name means “strange shrimp” – is the earliest known example of a top predator. At 90 to 200 centimetres long, it was the largest animal in the Cambrian seas. It had formidable grasping claws, which allowed it to grab its prey and pull it into its mouth. Lacking legs, it must have swum in open water.

That raises a question: how did it find its prey? It had eyes, but all fossils discovered until now have been in poor condition, so we didn’t know how well it could see. Now scientists have found a pair of exceptionally well-preserved eyes, 515 million years old, on Kangaroo Island off Australia’s south coast.

The eyes were on stalks on the strange shrimp’s head, and each was 2 to 3 centimetres across – about the size of an olive. They were covered with lenses, each 70 to 110 micrometres in diameter. That means each eye had at least 16,000 lenses. Anomalocaris‘s acute eyesight probably allowed it to seek out its prey in the brightly lit upper layers of the ocean. Learn more here, here or here.

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