200m year old 'hairy microbe' trapped inside leech cocoon found in Antarctica
A 200 million-year-old hairy microbe has been discovered trapped inside a prehistoric cocoon of a leech in Antarctica.
The discovery of the primitive "ciliate" on Antarctica is extremely rare as most of them are soft-bodied and dissolve after their death.
The microbe was trapped in the cocoon, recovered by scientists from an exposure of rock on 10,000ft high Timber Peak in the Eisenhower Range of mountains to the east of Earth's southernmost continent, the Daily Mail reported.
These microbes are part of a large group of micro-organisms called Ciliophora - common in water, and comprise over 8,000 species, the report said.
Evolutionary biologist Dr Thomas Taylor, of Kansas University, said the microbe added a small piece to the jigsaw of the evolution of life on earth.
The microbe looks like a teardrop and its horseshoe-shaped main body is still discernible under the microscope, the report added.
He said that it seemed that the Vorticella-like organism must have anchored itself to a freshly deposited cocoon in a flood basin and become trapped in the solidifying wall.
He added that the find also highlighted the "potential of clitellate (worm) cocoons as microscopic 'conservation traps' comparable to amber."
The findings have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.