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Natural History Museum and Other Scientists Uncover Anomalocaris Super Vision

A team of scientists led by University of New England, Australia, and including those at the Natural History Museum, have uncovered the first direct evidence that Anomalocaris had compound eyes, each with more than 16,000 lenses. This means that Anomalocaris’ vision was as good 500 million years ago as that of other arthropods today, such as flies and crabs.

Illustration of Anomalocaris, the ancient top sea predator in Cambrian times over 500 million years ago. Its compound eyes had at least 16,000 lenses each, making its sight rival many arthropods living today. © Katrina Kenny

This research is published today in the journal Nature and is on this week’s cover.

Museum scientist Dr Greg Edgecombe who worked on the research says, ‘This find is significant because having direct evidence of compound eyes confirms that Anomalocaris is a close relative of arthropods. These huge, sophisticated eyes would give animals a tremendous advantage at locating prey.’

The team examined fossils uncovered from Kangaroo Island, South Australia, which were about 515 million years old. Using scanning electronic microscopy (SEM) they could detect imprints of thousands of individual lenses in the 2 large eyes of Anomalocaris. They found at least 16,700 lenses. In comparison, the creatures alive today with the most powerful compound eyes are dragonflies, with as many as 28,000 lenses.

Compound eyes give an animal a pixelated view of the world. The resolution isn’t as good as a human would see, but compound eyes have a much wider view angle and they are particularly good for detecting movement, perfect for a predator like Anomalocaris. –

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