If you’re looking for new nightmare fuel beyond, oh we don’t know, the dissolution of democracy as we know it, meet Saccorhytus, a tiny H.R. Giger-esque monstrosity that scientists say could be our earliest-known ancestor. Going back some 540 million years, it’s also believed to be the most primitive example we have to date of a deuterostome—a member of a broad category of animals that includes everything from sea urchins to vertebrates like us.
The species, which comprised an elliptical body no more than a millimeter long, a large mouth, and apparently no anus, is new to science. We were only made aware of this lurking horror in our evolutionary past because a group of academics unearthed about 45 microfossils in central China’s Shaanxi Province. While the original finds, which look like they’re frozen in mid-scream, are pretty horrifying in and of themselves, the artist’s reconstruction is the gift that keeps on giving.
“We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves,” Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge and a member of the team, said in a statement. “To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping. All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here.”
Saccorhytus, the researchers speculate in the journal Nature, lived in what would have been a shallow sea during the early Cambrian period. It was so small that it probably lived between individual grains of sediment on the sea bed, where it hoovered up food with its capacious maw.
Cone-shaped spouts on its body may have allowed it to disgorge any water it swallowed, much like gills on the fish we see today.
If the creature had an anus, the scientists were unable to find it. Conceivably, Saccorhytus’s mouth went both ways. “If that was the case, then any waste material would simply have been taken out back through the mouth, which from our perspective sounds rather unappealing,” Conway Morris said.
As long as it doesn’t show up to any family reunions, we’ll be OK.