A team of scientists has discovered what could be the oldest eye in the world . The finding has occurred in Estoniaand is a 530 year old fossilbelonging to the extinct trilobite.
This animal, whose scientific name is Schmidtiellus reetae , lived during the Paleozoic Erabetween 251 and 541 million years ago, and was a kind of ancestor of hard-shelled spiders and crabs that lived in coastal waters.
Thanks to the discovery, it has been possible to know a little better the interesting evolution of the sense of vision. The eye does not present great differences with this organ at present, reason why it indicates to us that the ocular structure has not varied hardly in five hundred million years.
This member was partially worn , which allowed studying the interior, knowing its structure and functioning, as well as the differences with modern eyes.
The lead author of the study, Professor Brigitte Schoenemann of the University of Cologne, Germany, says that “this may be the oldest example of an eye that can be found. The oldest specimens in the sediment layers beneath this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to fossilize and will have disintegrated over time.”
The vision of a whole era
The trilobite presents an eye with a primitive composite form; that means that it was an organ made up of about 100 tiny visual cells called omatidia , similar to a current bee. In addition, the Schmidtiellus reetae curiously had no lens. This may be because the trilobite was a species without an adequate shell for its formation.
“This exceptional fossil shows us how primitive animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago,” according to Professor Euan Clarkson of the Faculty of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, one of the authors of the study.
The researchers believe that the trilobite had a poorer vision compared to the current animals , but that it would also have allowed it to distinguish predators and avoid obstacles. However, years later, the Schmidtiellus reetae of the Baltic coast would develop a better composite eye and with a much higher image resolution than the fossil results show.