One of the weirdest prehistoric animals ever discovered, Opabinia had five eyes on stalks and a long, flexible trunk (proboscis) tipped with a grasping claw. This mouse-sized sea creature probably used its trunk in the same way an elephant does, picking up items of food with the tip and then passing them to its mouth.
Fossils of Opabinia were discovered in a famous fossil bed in Canada called the Burgess Shale. The Burgess Shale contains surprisingly clear impressions of soft body parts that were buried in mud on the seafloor half a billion years ago during the Cambrian Period. There are so many weird and wonderful animal species in the Burgess Shale that their sudden appearance is known as the “Cambrian Explosion.”
OVERLAPPING FLAPS ran along each side of Opabinia’s body. Perhaps the animal swam by moving the flaps up and down in a wave pattern to push itself through the water.
Opabinia’s body consisted of 16 segments, each of which had side flaps and gills on the underside for breathing in water. Scientists think the animal lived near the seabed and used its trunk to fish around in the mud for food. It had no jaws or teeth, so it probably only ate soft items of food.
Although very different from all other living or prehistoric animals, Opabinia is thought to be related to the arthropods (invertebrates with jointed limbs and external skeletons, such as insects, spiders, and crabs).
■ When 515–500 million years ago (Middle Cambrian)
■ Fossil location Canada
■ Habitat Near the seabed
■ Length 2 1/2 in (6.5 cm)