Rare fossil creatures from a mysterious time known as the
Ediacaran are amongst the most exquisite examples of the earliest
complex life, experts say.
The 560-575-million-year-old specimens from Canada, of marine
organisms called rangeomorphs, are preserved in three dimensions,
Science magazine reports.
The organisms appear to be somewhat plant-like, with "frondlets"
- leafy structures that branch from stems.
These were probably free-floating, elevated above the sea floor
by a stalk.
Guy Narbonne, of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, found
the new assemblage of fossils in an area called Spaniard's Bay in
The rocks at nearby Mistaken Point on the island have also
yielded Ediacaran fossils, but these are squashed flat.
Lighting the fuse
Dr Narbonne believes rangeomorphs are a single biological group,
which can neither be classified as animals nor as plants.
The Ediacaran Period occurs just before the "Cambrian
explosion", an evolutionary blossoming in which many important
animal groups appeared for the first time.
Professor Jim Ogg, secretary-general of the International
Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), has speculated that the mysterious
Ediacaran organisms were probably "torn to shreds" by the predatory
animals that became more common in the Cambrian.