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Science and Innovations

Grand Canyon Fossils Show Evidence of Microscopic 'Vampires'

Microscopic fossils in the Grand Canyon show evidence of a vampire-like predator that punctured its prey to suck out the innards.

The fossils were found in eastern Grand Canyon in the Chuar sediments.  They’re remains of microscopic organisms that swam in an ancient sea.

Susannah Porter of the University of California-Santa Barbara studied the fossils and found they had dozens of circular holes. “So I started thinking that they were maybe made by another organism that was perforating the wall,” she says. “And I had known from my work . . . that there were amoebae today that had this sort of vampire-like feeding habit.”   

Porter isn’t sure if the ancient creatures are related to today’s vampire amoebae. But she says this is the earliest known example of a predatory lifeform eating organisms with complex cells.

Her research supports the idea that 800 million years ago organisms began to rapidly diversify to protect themselves from being devoured.

The study appeared today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The video below shows the feeding habits of modern vampire amoebae. Credit Sebastian Hess, BBC. You can see" target="_blank">another video of a feeding frenzy here.">Vampyrella 1 from">Nguyen The Hoan on Vimeo.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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