A type of ancient shrimp, which emerged more than 500 million years ago before the dawn of the dinosaurs, has been discovered in China.
The rare species, referred to as ‘fairy shrimps’, could date back as far as the Cambrian Period and are related to, but not the direct ancestors of, today’s shrimp.
A troupe of them were spotted this week in a pond in the city of Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, by several engineers who were working nearby.
A group of engineers in Lianyungang, China, said they found these ‘fairy shrimps’ after catching tadpoles in a pond
The workers took interest in the creatures after being attracted by their colourful looks, especially their bright red tails
Although they look like shrimps and are nicknamed ‘fairy shrimps’, they are actually different from the modern shrimps we eat
One of them, Liu Caikun, said he and his colleagues first saw several tadpoles in the pond on Tuesday and caught them.
After putting them into a bucket, they discovered there were ‘shrimps’ swimming alongside the tadpoles, all sporting red tails.
‘We looked up some information online and thought they looked like fairy shrimps,’ Mr Liu added.
An expert has confirmed to MailOnline that the creatures in question were indeed fairy shrimps.
Zhao Li, the director of the Insect Museum of West China, said the crustaceans were given the nickname because of their colourful looks, but they are actually different from modern shrimps despite being similar in appearance.
Mr Zhao explained that fairy shrimps belong to the Anostraca genus, and unlike shrimps which fall under the Decapoda genus, they don’t have shells on their heads or in front of their chests.
In addition, most fairy shrimps are found to have 11 pairs of legs while modern shrimps have eight.
Zhao Li, the director of the Insect Museum of West China, has collected a 530-million-year-old fossil believed to be of the ancestors of fairy shrimps. This means the creatures are likely to have started living on earth far earlier than the dinosaurs
Fairy shrimps have a unique ‘stroke’ because they swim with their bellies up. Mr Zhao said: ‘The discovery of fairy shrimps in Lianyungang means that the freshwater in the area is clean and without contamination of heavy metals and pesticides’
Fairy shrimps were categorised as a new species in China after being discovered in the province of Yunnan in 2008
According to the expert, fairy shrimps have a short life span of two to three months and live in seasonal water bodies.
Their eggs are said to have ‘tenacious vitality’. They are able to remain in soil for a few year before hatching in freshwater, and even survive being boiled.
‘Because they have these “skills”, they lived through the Cretaceous Period when the dinosaurs went extinct and started to thrive again after the Ice Age,’ Mr Zhao said.
He added that he had obtained two fossils believed to be of the ancestors of fairy shrimps, and they dated back about 530 million years to the Cambrian Period.
This means the creatures are likely to have started living on earth far earlier than the dinosaurs, which appeared roughly 245 million years ago.
Mr Zhao also pointed out that fairy shrimps have a unique ‘swimming stroke’ because they move with their bellies facing up.
And apparently the creatures are also very picky in the water they inhabit.
Mr Zhao said: ‘The discovery of fairy shrimps in Lianyungang means that the freshwater in the area is clean and without contamination of heavy metals and pesticides.’
Fairy shrimps were categorised as a new species in China after being discovered in the province of Yunnan in 2008.
Since then, they have been spotted around China in provinces including Henan, Hebei, Sichuan and Xinjiang.