An ‘EXCEPTIONAL’ 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered, according to researchers.
The remains of the extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies.
Scientists made the discovery while examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled species called a trilobite.
These ancestors of spiders and crabs lived in coastal waters during the Palaeozoic era, between 541-251 million years ago.
They found the ancient creature had a primitive form of compound eye, an optical organ that consists of arrays of tiny visual cells, called ommatidia, similar to those of present-day bees.
The findings suggest compound eyes have changed little over 500 million years.
Professor Euan Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: ‘This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago.
‘Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed in half a billion years.’
The right eye of the fossil, which was unearthed in Estonia, was partly worn away, giving researchers a clear view inside the organ.
This revealed details of the eye’s structure and function, and how it differs from modern compound eyes.
Unlike modern compound eyes, the fossil’s eye does not have a lens.
The team believe this is likely to be because the primitive species, called Schmidtiellus reetae, lacked parts of the shell needed for lens formation.