Brachiopods, you recall, are bivalved shelled animals – bivalve means they have two shells, like clams, but brachiopods are not clams. They are filter feeders, extracting food from the water using tentacle-like organs called lophophores. Brachiopods are still with us today, so we can project back into the fossil record using modern examples, since soft parts are seldom preserved in fossils.
The were able to identify the pedicle, the fleshy stem that attached brachiopods to the sea floor, as well as the tiny, soft lophophores.
So what about that amazing swimmer with a large penis? That’s Colymbosathon eplecticos, the scientific name that apparently means exactly that—amazing swimmer with a large penis. It’s an ostracod – a tiny crustacean, sometimes called a seed shrimp because it’s so small, typically a millimeter long. Ostracods generally have genital equipment that’s large compared to the animal’s size, and in some species, individual sperm can be six times the length of the entire animal – they keep them tightly coiled up until the mood is right. Well, I doubt if ostracods had moods, but you know what I mean. This Silurian specimen is the oldest penis of any animal ever found! And the discovery shows that ostracods have been remarkably successful – at least if you define success as surviving for hundreds of millions of years without much change.
The rocks these critters were found in are part of the Wenlock series that we discussed a couple days ago. See the links below to Sutton’s paper for some pretty cool photos of these things – remarkable because delicate soft parts have been preserved for 425 million years.
—Richard I. GibsonModern ostracod photo by Anna33 at en.wikipedia under Creative Commons license
References and further reading:
Ostracods and more from Herefordshire (photos)
Sutton et al.