Extinct Shell Fish Speaks Today

Extinct Shell Fish Speaks Today

A recent study of Isoxys (marine crustacean) fossils from the Maotianshan Shale of China provides important new evidence for creation. The study reveals that a complex and expansive ecology existed in the period known as the Cambrian Explosion, the time when advanced multicellular animals suddenly appeared on Earth.1 The natural process of biological evolution cannot explain the concurrent appearance of a highly advanced ecology in conjunction with the explosive introduction of the first true multicellular animals. On the other hand, the biblical creation model readily accommodates this feature of the fossil record.

The Cambrian Explosion, a dramatic event in life’s history (about 540 million years ago) occurred over an extremely narrow window of geological time, 2-3 million years or narrower. At the time of the Cambrian Explosion, nearly every animal phyla ever to exist on Earth (more than 70) suddenly appeared.2 Since that time, arguably no new animal phyla have arisen. Evolutionary biologists find the Cambrian Explosion one of biology’s greatest enigmas.3

In 1986 Simon Conway Morris identified an additional problem. The ecology of the Cambrian fauna apparently resembled that of modern marine ecosystems, including identifiable predator-prey relationships.4, 5 The evolutionary paradigm predicts a restricted and loosely-woven ecology at that early time. Further, the evolutionary model predicts the appearance of bottom dwelling (benthic) animals long before the first animals that occupy open waters (pelagic).6 To exploit the open sea for survival, organisms must develop biomechanical specializations that allow for buoyancy and locomotion. And they need adequate concentrations of nutrients in the open sea.

According to the evolutionary model, benthic animals should have appeared during the early Cambrian, followed much later by pelagic organisms. Increased predation of bottom dwellers was, presumably, the “evolutionary” driving force behind marine creatures’ transition to the open sea. The open-sea environment allows for greater safety and avoidance of predatory attacks. Moreover, the activity of benthic organisms, over time, would have increased the nutrient levels in the open sea, eventually making way for occupation of this niche.

A duo of paleontologists from France and China have published findings that stand in sharp contrast to these evolutionary expectations.7 By examining newly available fossil specimens of a long-extinct marine crustacean (Isoxys) having unusually well preserved soft-body parts, the French and Chinese paleontologists found that Isoxys occupied an open-sea environment. The Isoxys specimens revealed swimming appendages, visual organs, and shell design all consistent with those expected of an organism living in the open sea.

The recovery of Isoxys from early Cambrian rocks makes this discovery even more remarkable. Pelagic lifestyles could not have evolved from benthic lifestyles. Rather, the fossil record shows that exploitation of both the open sea and sea floor occurred simultaneously. Moreover, the shell design of Ixosys displays long spines extending from the anterior and posterior ends. These spines would not have contributed to Isoxys buoyancy, and therefore, must have served as defensive structures in the face of open-sea predatory threats—again, an unexpected finding.

As paleontologists develop an increased understanding of the Cambrian ecology, they find more and more evidence that the ecosystems of that time were complex, expansive, and highly integrated. The first complex animals possessed surprisingly advanced capabilities, enabling them to exploit the full range of ecological niches. The Cambrian fossil record supports the conclusion that advanced multicellular life resulted from the activity of the biblical Creator.

  1. Jean Vannier and Jun-Yuan Chen, “The Early Cambrian Colonization of Pelagic Niches Exemplified by Isoxys (Arthropoda),” Lethaia 33 (2000): 295-311.
  2. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’ and Why It Means So Much for Christians,” Facts for Faith (Q2 2000), 15-17.
  3. Simon Conway Morris, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’: Slow Fuse or Megatonnage?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 97 (2000): 4426-29.
  4. Simon Coway Morris,“The Community Structure of the Middle Cambrian Phyllopod Bed (Burgess Shale),” Paleontology 29 (1986): 423-67.
  5. Steven J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), 222-24.
  6. Philip W. Signor and Geeret J. Vermeij, “The Plankton and the Benthos: Origins and Early History of an Evolving Relationship,” Paleobiology 20 (1994): 297-319.
  7. Vannier and Chen, 295-311.