A team of Virginia Tech researchers have discovered fossils of kinorhynch worms - commonly known as mud dragons - dating back more than 530 million years.
The historic find - made in South China - fills a huge gap in the known fossil record of kinorhynchs, small invertebrate animals that are related to arthropods, featuring exoskeletons and segmented bodies, but not jointed legs.
The first specimen was unearthed in rocks in Nanjiang, China, in 2013 and more fossils were found later that year and in 2014.
Helping lead the international team of scientists and biomedical engineers who unearthed, studied, and imaged the ancient, armored, worm-like creature is Shuhai Xiao, a professor of geobiology in the Department of Geosciences, part of the College of Science at Virginia Tech.
Dubbed Eokinorhynchus rarus - or rare ancient mud dragon, the newly discovered animal dates back from the Cambrian period and contains five pairs of large bilaterally placed spines on its trunk. It is believed to be related to modern kinorhynchs.