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Extinct Crustacean Dollocaris Had Ginormous Eyes, Each a Quarter Of the Length Of Its Body

Jan 21, 2016 03:34 PM EST

Fossils of a 160 million-year-old crustacean-like marine creature that went extinct with the dinosaurs were recently found in southeast France. Researchers say this tiny, but scary-looking critter likely hunted its prey using two ginormous eyes.

Researchers examined the remains of this interesting creature - Dollocaris ingens - using specialized microscopes and scanning techniques. This ancient crustacean was a kind of arthropod, an animal that has an exoskeleton and a segmented body, like the insects and spiders of today. Each of its massive eyes measured to be about a quarter of its body size and was composed of  18,000 lenses - a record rivaled only by modern-day dragonflies.

Their analysis also revealed that Dollocaris would have been a swimmer, equipped with a crab-like shell, three clawed, segmented legs used to catch tiny shrimps, and eight pairs of stubby swimming appendages. This tiny critter would have only been between two and eight inches long, and each eye was about a quarter of that.

While Dollocaris' giant peepers are a unique find by themselves, researchers say it is rather unusual to find such well-preserved samples of internal eye structure. The first animals with compound eyes - such as those of Dollocaris and modern ants - are thought to have appeared during the Cambrian period, some 50 million years ago. This revolutionary characteristic would have drastically changed the way species interacted - especially predators and their prey.

"To see and be seen changed everything - with eyes you could become a more effective hunter, while prey became more easily detectable," study co-author Jean Vannier from France's University of Lyon explained. "All this led to a new dynamic -- for some to better protect themselves, for others to become better at detection, and new evolutionary pressures."

In terms of Dollocaris, researchers suggest the creature lurked the oceans and ambushed its prey from concealed hideaways.

"It is clear that its huge, panoramic, multi-faceted acute eyes were crucial to scanning its environment and to detecting potential moving prey," the authors wrote in their study.

While these marine creatures made their exit millions of years ago, their eye structures continued to evolve in other animals, including modern-day insects and crustaceans.

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications

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