Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opabinia (Part 2)

Opabinia was a Cambrian invertebrate probably related to today's velvet worms. It was also related to Anomalocaris, which probably sometimes ate Opabinia. 

Opabinia's main food source was presumably worms, which were pulled out of their burrows by Opabinia's long proboscis, then torn up and eaten in its "pineapple ring"-shaped mouth located in a scoop on the underside of the creature's head. Another presumed food source of Opabinia was carcasses, especially of large animals such as Anomalocaris and Hurdia

One striking feature about Opabinia is that it possessed five huge eyes. Because of where Opabinia's eyes are positioned, it might have had 360 degree vision. It is thought that the eyes probably only detected motion. 

Opabinia swam by undulating the lobes on its sides. Each side possessed eleven lobes. For a burst of speed, Opabinia would have flicked its fins very quickly, similar to how a modern fish does a burst of speed. But Opabinia had a different fin arrangement than a modern fish. 

Opabinia was two to three inches long and probably swam along the bottom of the ocean. 

Opabinia searching for food.

Opabinia's closest relative was the Australian Myoscolex. Unlike Opabinia, it had no tail fan, and the eyes closest to the back had long stalks that curved backwards. So Myoscolex basically had eyes on the back of its head. And it needed to have eyes on the back of its head, because Anomalocaris, a top predator, was also present in Australia in the Cambrian, and it would have eaten Myoscolex. 

Opabinia was found on the other side of the world from Myoscolex, in British Columbia. 

Opabinia (top) compared with Myoscolex (below)

Opabinia also has modern relatives called Onychophora, or velvet worms. They live on land, mostly in Australia, and inhabit wet forests. They normally live in families inside logs in the day, but at night they come out to find food. There are usually up to fifteen velvet worms in a family. Velvet worms usually grow up to about 1-1/2 inches. 

Opabinia is actually quite similar to velvet worms if you look at it the right way. Because Opabinia is now thought to have had legs, if you take away all the fins and the proboscis, leave only two tiny eyes and add antennae, you get a velvet worm. 

Another modern relative to Opabinia is the tardigrade, which looks like a very short, stubby, microscopic velvet worm. One striking feature about the tardigrade is that it is nearly impossible to naturally kill, although it is probably very easy to intentionally kill by smushing it. It can be frozen, heated, and even put into space. Scientists put tardigrades into space without a spacesuit or a jar of air...and they survived!!!

A modern velvet worm on a forest floor. 



  1. With summer vacation, a week-long power outage, and lots of actual digging around in streams, creeks, lakes, rivers, and an ocean, there hasn't been much time for blogging. Don't despair. The work continues!

  2. Great to see you blogging again-- and your drawings are getting better, too!

  3. Thanks to you I now know about Myoscolex- what a cool name! In return may I share with you a very special art car I got to see at in the Nevada Desert in 2009- a giant fire-breathing Opabinia!

    1. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you! That was really cool. I would like to post this on the blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!