The remains of a gigantic new fossil species have been uncovered by paleontologists at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). The species belongs to an animal group in the Cambrian rocks, which is half a billion years old and extinct. It can be traced back to the Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The findings were revealed in a study reported in the Royal Society Open Science on September 8, 2021. 

Titanokorys Gainesi is the official name of the species

Titanokorys Gainesi is noteworthy for its size. Its total length has been estimated to be half a meter. In comparison to other animals that lived in the sea during that period, Titanokorys are huge. Most of the animals back then barely measured up to the size of a pinky finger. 

Jean-Bernard Caron, Richard M. Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at ROM, shared, “The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling, this is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found.” 

One of the largest radiodonts of the Cambrian explosion

In evolutionary terms, the species is part of a group of primitive arthropods called radiodonts. Anomalocaris, a streamlined predator, is the most legendary representative of this group. The eyes of Titanokorys were multifaceted, just like every radiodont. Its tooth-lined mouth resembled a pineapple slice. 

Titanokorys would capture their prey with a pair of spiny claws. A series of flaps assisted its body in swimming. It is also believed to have possessed the largest head carapace among the species. 

Joe Moysiuk, a ROM-based Ph.D. student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University in Toronto, who co-authored the study, stated, “Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterized by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes. The head is so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads.” 

The reasons for some radiodonts’ confusing array of head carapace shapes and sizes are unknown. But the broad flattened carapace form of Titanokorys shows this species was adapted to living near the seafloor.

Discovery of rare species from the Cambrian period

All of the fossils in this study were collected by ROM excursions in the Marble Canyon area of northern Kootenay National Park. This location, which was only discovered a few years ago, has yielded many Burgess Shale species going back to the Cambrian period. A smaller relative of Titanokorys known as Cambroraster falcatus was also discovered at this new location.