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New fossils demonstrate that powerful eyes evolved in a twinkling
Date:6/29/2011

Palaeontologists have uncovered half-a-billion-year-old fossils demonstrating that primitive animals had excellent vision.

An international team led by scientists from the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide found the exquisite fossils, which look like squashed eyes from a recently swatted fly.

This discovery will be published tomorrow (Thursday 30 June 2011) in the prestigious journal Nature.

The lead author is Associate Professor Michael Lee from the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide's School of Earth & Environmental Sciences.

Compound Eyes

Modern insects and crustaceans have "compound eyes" consisting of hundreds or even thousands of separate lenses. They see their world as pixels each lens produces a pixel of vision. More lenses mean more pixels and better visual resolution. (Each lens does not form a miniature image a myth often perpetuated by Hollywood.)

Evolutionary Advantage

The fossil compound eyes were found on Kangaroo Island, South Australia and are 515 million years old. They have over 3000 lenses, making them more powerful than anything from that era, and probably belonged to an active predator that was capable of seeing in dim light.

Their discovery reveals that some of the earliest animals possessed very powerful vision; similar eyes are found in many living insects, such as robber flies. Sharp vision must therefore have evolved very rapidly, soon after the first predators appeared during the 'Cambrian Explosion' of life that began around 540 million years ago.

Given the tremendous adaptive advantage conferred by sharp vision for avoiding predators and locati
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Contact: Crispin Savage
crispin.savage@samuseum.sa.gov.au
61-434-603-175
University of Adelaide
Source:Eurekalert  

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