One of the earliest known carnivores fossils has been named after Sir David Attenborough by the geologists who discovered it.
The 560-million-year-old creature is the first of its kind ever identified and is believed to be the earliest known skeleton creature.
It was found in Charnwood Forest near Leicester, where craggy rocks date back 600 million years from the Precambrian period, the earliest part of Earth’s history when life was still in its infancy.
The paleontologists who discovered the fossil are naming it Auroralumina attenbo anhhii in honor of 96-year-old broadcaster and natural historian Sir David.
According to a report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, its name is Latin for “dawn lantern” in reference to its age and resemblance to a burning torch.
Sir David was first knighted by the Queen in 1985 but last month received another knighthood when he was appointed Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George – a higher title.
Its name is a relative of the group of animals that include modern corals, jellyfish and sea anemones, the researchers said.
Sir David said: “When I was at school in Leicester, I was an avid fossil hunter.
“The rocks that Auroralumina were discovered at that time are considered so ancient that they date to long before life began on the planet. So I never looked for fossils there.
“A few years later, a boy at my school found one and proved the experts wrong.
“He was rewarded by the name he was given to his discovery. Now I’ve – almost – caught up with him and I’m really excited.”
One of the scientists who made the discovery, Dr Phil Wilby, lead paleontologist at the UK Geological Survey, said: “In general, groups of modern animals such as jellyfish have emerged. 540 million years ago during the Cambrian explosion.
“But this carnivore predates it by 20 million years. It’s the earliest creature we know with a skeleton.
“We’ve only found one so far, but it’s exciting to know that there must be others out there, holding the key to when complex life began on Earth.”
Back in 2007, Dr Wilby and others spent more than a week cleaning the 100 square meter stone surface with a toothbrush and pressure nozzle.
They created a rubber mold for the entire surface, found more than 1,000 fossils – and one in particular stood out.
Dr Frankie Dunn, from Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, said: ‘This is very different from other fossils in the Charnwood Forest and around the world.
“Most of the other fossils from this time have extinct body plans and it’s unclear how they are related to living animals.
“This species clearly had an exoskeleton, with dense tentacles that could wade through the water to catch food passing, much like today’s corals and anemones.
Dr Dunn added: “It was unlike anything else we had found in the fossil record at the time.