Cnidarians represent an early diverging animal group and thus insight into their origin and diversification is key to understanding metazoan evolution. Further, cnidarian jellyfish comprise an important component of modern marine planktonic ecosystems. Here we report on exceptionally preserved cnidarian jellyfish fossils from the Middle Cambrian (~505 million years old) Marjum Formation of Utah. These are the first described Cambrian jellyfish fossils to display exquisite preservation of soft part anatomy including detailed features of structures interpreted as trailing tentacles and subumbrellar and exumbrellar surfaces. If the interpretation of these preserved characters is correct, their presence is diagnostic of modern jellyfish taxa. These new discoveries may provide insight into the scope of cnidarian diversity shortly after the Cambrian radiation, and would reinforce the notion that important taxonomic components of the modern planktonic realm were in place by the Cambrian period.
Paulyn Cartwright, Susan L. Halgedahl, Jonathan R. Hendricks, Richard D. Jarrard, Antonio C. Marques, Allen G. Collins, and Bruce S. Lieberman. "Exceptionally Preserved Jellyfishes from the Middle Cambrian" PLoS ONE (2007).