China is the location where scientists made what some experts refer to as the “missing link” discovery. It is believed that strange-looking walking cacti, which are related to arthropods like spiders, are the connection between worm-like organisms and arthropods.
The history of the development of insects, spiders, and crustaceans may be missing a crucial piece of information due to the discovery of fossils of a worm-like organism with 10 legs that existed 520 million years ago.
The so-called walking cactus is a member of an ancient genus of worm-like organisms known as lobopodians. Lobopodians are assumed to have been the ancestors of arthropods. Arthropods, like spiders and other insects, have segmented bodies and jointed limbs that are encased in a tough exoskeleton.
Jianni Liu, the lead researcher who is affiliated with Northwest University in China and Freie University in Germany, stated that prior to the discovery of the bizarre walking cactus, Diania cactiformis, all lobopodian remains had soft bodies and soft limbs. Jianni Liu is affiliated with both universities.
Based on the findings of three complete fossils and thirty incomplete fossils recovered in Yunnan Province in southern China, Liu and the other researchers were able to characterise the extinct organism. The length of the walking cactus was around 2.4 inches (6 centimetres), and its body was segmented into nine parts. It had ten pairs of hardened, jointed legs, and its total length was approximately six centimetres.
There is a lot of mystery about how the leggy worm earned its life. According to Liu, it could have grabbed its meal with its spiny front legs or its tube-like mouth, known as a proboscis, which it used to suck small items out of the mud.
Velvet worms, which are regarded to be the sole surviving related to all arthropods, have conserved characteristics that provide insight into the evolution of arthropods. Land-dwelling worms that were formerly misidentified as slugs have virtually totally soft bodies, with the exception of their claws and jaws, which are tough.
According to Graham Budd, a professor of paleobiology at Uppsala University in Sweden who was not involved in the current study, the discovery of this animal helps fill in the evolutionary history between the velvet worms and modern arthropods. Arthropods are the most dominant group of animals on the planet in terms of numbers and diversity, and this discovery helps fill in the gap between the velvet worms and modern arthropods.
According to Budd, the peculiar looking cactus is the first and only evidence of rigid, jointed limbs adapted for walking occurring in a species that cannot be identified as an arthropod.
However, Budd is not persuaded by the researchers’ claims that the walking cactus’s armoured legs were directly inherited by contemporary arthropods.
According to what he said in an interview with LiveScience, “I am not convinced that it is a direct ancestor or as closely connected to live arthropods as they imply.” “The good news is that there is a lot more stuff that continues coming out; nonetheless, I would want to see more proof.”
For instance, it is probable that current arthropods are not as closely linked to the walking cactus as previously thought, and that toughened legs have independently evolved numerous times. According to Budd, another possibility is that the legs of early arthropods developed first, followed by the hardening of the bodies.
He went on to say that in the past ten years or so, researchers have reached a greater level of agreement about the evolutionary history of arthropods, which was made possible by the discovery of new fossils, many of which came from China.