Haikouella lanceolata Mass Death Assemblage from Chengjiang
Putative Primitive Chordate of the Cambrian Explosion

Haikouella lanceolata

Phylum Chordata

Geological Time: Early Cambrian (~525 million years ago)

Size: Haikouella are 10 to 17 mm long

Fossil Site: Chengjiang Maotianshan Shales, Quiongzhusi Section, Yu’anshan Member, Heilinpu Formation, Haiyi Village, Anning, Kunming County, Yunnan Province, China

Haikouella lanceolataDescription: This exceptional specimen is a multiple (at least seven specimens) example of Haikouella lanceolata, thought by its describers to be the earliest craniate-like chordate. This fish-like animal has many similarities to the contemporaneous Yunnanozoon lividum, but differs in several aspects: it has a discernible heart, dorsal and ventral aorta, gill filaments, and a neural chord. For all these reasons, it was identified by Chen, Huang, and Li in the seminal Nature paper (Nature 402, 518-522, 02 December 1999) as a chordate.

The debate rages on, but whatever the outcome, this creature was much like the ancestor of all the vertebrates. It derives its generic name from its resemblance to Haikouellathe modern day lancet Amphioxus. Few examples are ever offered, and this is the first example with a large number of specimens that I have seen. Such assemblages have been mentioned in the literature, and must represent some catastrophe that overcame them en masse. This is an exceptional museum-quality specimen certain to become the showcase of any collection of life from the Cambrian Explosion.

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