A merciful death for the “earliest bilaterian,” Vernanimalcula
Article first published online: 5 SEP 2012
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Evolution & Development
Volume 14, Issue 5, pages 421–427, September / October 2012
How to Cite
Bengtson, S., Cunningham, J. A., Yin, C. and Donoghue, P. C.J. (2012), A merciful death for the “earliest bilaterian,” Vernanimalcula. Evolution & Development, 14: 421–427. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2012.00562.x
- Issue published online: 5 SEP 2012
- Article first published online: 5 SEP 2012
- Swedish Research Council. Grant Numbers: 2007–4484, 2010–3929
- Natural Environment Research Council. Grant Number: NE/F00348X/1
- National Natural Science foundation of China. Grant Number: 41072005
Fossils described as Vernanimalcula guizhouena, from the nearly 600 million-year-old Doushantuo Formation in South China, have been interpreted as the remains of bilaterian animals. As such they would represent the oldest putative record of bilaterian animals in Earth history, and they have been invoked in debate over this formative episode of early animal evolution. However, this interpretation is fallacious. We review the evidential basis of the biological interpretation of Vernanimalcula, concluding that the structures key to animal identity are effects of mineralization that do not represent biological tissues, and, furthermore, that it is not possible to derive its anatomical reconstruction on the basis of the available evidence. There is no evidential basis for interpreting Vernanimalcula as an animal, let alone a bilaterian. The conclusions of evolutionary studies that have relied upon the bilaterian interpretation of Vernanimalcula must be called into question.