Rare fossil annelid unearthed in downtown Ottawa

Posted By Ian Randall on 19 March 2010

One of the rarest fossils has been found in the most unexpected of locations – the capital city of Canada. Described in the current issue of Palaeontology1, the 450 million year old specimen of the annelid machaeridian worm Plumulitids canadensis is one of only eight such finds in the world.

“Such significant new fossils are generally discovered in remote or little studied areas of the globe, requiring difficult journeys and a bit of adventure to reach them. Not this one though. It was found in a place that has an address rather than map co-ordinates!” observed Jakob Vinther, lead author on the paper.

One of the more interesting points about the find was that it was not an expert who uncovered it.

“This nifty little specimen first came to my notice when I received a letter from an amateur fossil collector in Nepean, Ontario. In prospecting for fossils in rock from a temporary building excavation he had turned up a small block containing a complete trilobite, but next to it was something else,” said Dave Rudkin, who works alongside Vinther at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

He added: “James, the collector, generously agreed to lend me the specimen and I realised immediately it was a complete, fully articulated machaeridian! The first I had ever seen.” Annelid worms are the group that includes bristleworms, earthworms and leeches – and while Plumulitid canadensis might look like bristleworms do today, their back supports an extraordinary layer of mineralized plates.

Reconstruction of Plumulites canadensis. Image credit - Esben Horn, www.10tons.dk

“The plates themselves were rigid, but they could move relative to one other, providing plumulitids with a protective body armour very similar to the flexible metal armour invented by humans 450 million years later. Machaeridian body armour is unique among annelids, and probably helped them to succeed as ubiquitous components of marine ecosystems for more than 200 million years,” said Vinther.

  1. VINTHER, J., & RUDKIN, D. (2010). The first articulated specimen of (Woodward, 1889) from the Upper Ordovician of Ontario, with a review of the anterior region of Plumulitidae (Annelida: Machaeridia) Palaeontology, 53 (2), 327-334 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2010.00938.x []


One Response to “Rare fossil annelid unearthed in downtown Ottawa”

  1. Not bad article, but I really miss that you didn't express your opinion, but ok you just have different approach

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