In a surprising discovery, scientists have got their hands on a fossil whose eye is believed to be the oldest one found in any creature. The 530-million-year-old fossil is of an extinct sea creature, and as per the researchers, it possessed the early form of an eye, similar to many present-day animals like bees, crabs, and dragonflies. A team of international researchers discovered this prehistoric eye while examining a well-preserved trilobite fossil. The fossil was unearthed in Estonia. The hard-shelled Trilobites are considered as the ancestors of crabs and spiders, and they dwelled in seas during the Palaeozoic era, between 541-251 million years ago.
Researchers informed that the ancient creature, named as Schmidtiellus reetae, had a primitive form of compound eye, an optical organ having arrays of tiny visual cells, just like found in present-day bees. According to the researchers, the findings indicated that compound eyes had changed little over 500 million years. Explaining more about the latest find, Prof Euan Clarkson, of Edinburgh University’s school of geosciences, said, “This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago. Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed in half a billion years.”
As the right eye of the trilobite fossil was partly worn away, it allowed researchers to get deeper into organ and see the parts clearly. The researchers revealed that although the ancient creature had poor vision as compared to present day animals possessing compound eyes, it could identify the predators and obstacles in its path.
From the research, scientists got details about the structure and function of the eye and came to know that the eye had approximately 100 ommatidia that were situated relatively far apart as compared to modern compound eyes. The study also revealed that unlike contemporary compound eyes, the fossil’s eye did not contain any lens. The research team also informed that only a few million years later, another trilobite species from the present-day Baltic region developed improved compound eyes with higher resolution.
Prof Brigitte Schoenemann, of Cologne University, who was a part of the study, said that the latest discovered eye of a trilobite fossil might be the earliest eye ever found n creature till date. “Older specimens in sediment layers below this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to be fossilized and have disintegrated over time,” he added. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science