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Experts have just discovered a 515-million-year-old 'alien-like' sea creature

It is often said that if you want to discover new life forms, you'd have more luck exploring the bottom of the ocean than the limits of outer space. And, considering that an estimated 99 per cent of the ocean floor remains undiscovered, it's pretty scary to think about what could be lurking down there.

We already know about the existence of giant squid, which have eyes the size of dinner plates, and anglerfish, which look arguably more extra-terrestrial than any other creature on the planet. However, there are trenches and depths that we have not yet been able to access, and the chances are that whatever is down there could be even worse.

Despite this, scientists are committed to uncovering the secrets hiding beneath the ocean - especially those which will give us more of an understanding of the Earth's past.

cambrian sea creature Credit: Zhao, F. et al. Scientific Reports

Recently, archaeologists discovered a 515-million-year-old sea creature that was "strange beyond measure". Martin Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, said that the specimen was "like a mythical beast".

It was only 1.5cm long, and barely 3mm wide, but it is more alienlike than any other creature recently discovered. With armor-plated skin and a hard shell covering its head ("almost as if it's wearing a bike helmet," according to Smith) the slug-like critter was equipped with some extreme defense systems. Most prominent of all, however, "are the cocktail-stick-like spines that emerge from its sides like the rays of a sunburst," which were obviously an essential feature in the vicious prehistoric world.

The professor went on to say, "We don't know much about the animal underneath these mineralized plates — whether it had legs or a slug-like foot, [and] whether it had teeth or tentacles."

sea fossil Credit: Zhao, F. et al. Scientific Reports

Scientists have named the creature "Orthrozanclus elongata", which refers to its stretched out body. "These fossils are incredibly rare," Smith said in an interview Live Science. "Only two specimens have been found, amidst the tens of thousands of other creatures known from the same deposits."

The creepy armored critter is said to be an example of the diversity amongst extinct animals, and could potentially help scientists understand the links between ancient creatures and the modern ones we still see today.

It also adds weight to the Cambrian Explosion theory, with suggests that the animal kingdom saw a massive injection of diversity and variety about 541 million years ago.

sea fossil Credit: Zhao, F. et al. Scientific Reports

Because of how well-preserved this specimen is, it could give a lot of clues about a group of animals called brachiopods. These creatures still exist today, but are often referred to as "living fossils" because they appear to have stopped evolving some time ago.

"Whereas many lineages show evolutionary trends towards greater activity and complexity, brachiopods seem to have settled down to a sedentary existence, like a retiree settling down in a favorite armchair," said Smith.

Hopefully, archaeologists will uncover more specimens of the catchily-titled Orthrozanclus elongata very soon, as they could very well be the key to understanding an incredibly important period in our planet's history.