Curling up in self-defence, 510 million years ago

Javier Ortega-Hernández, a research student in the field of Palaeontology at the University's Department of Earth Sciences, has unearthed the remains of the first known creature to curl up in a little ball, and pioneer one of the animal world's most successful defensive strategies.

During field research in Canada, Javier and his supervisor Dr Nicholas Butterfield came across two tiny and early trilobytes, known as olenellids, whose body structures showed clear evidence that they were capable of rolling themselves up effectively. 

Javier writes "It's long been known that trilobites became very efficient at avoiding predators . . but no-one had ever seen an enrolled fossil of this very early trilobite group, so it was assumed that they did not have an enrolling ability at this stage of evolution."

This self-defence mechanism contributed to trilobites being one of the longest surviving creatures on Earth - they survived for an astounding 270m years.

Born in Mexico, Javier arrived in Cambridge in 2009 with a scholarship from the Cambridge Trust.  He also held a scholarship from CONACyT, Mexico's National Council of Science and Technology, with whom the Trust now co-funds a programme of PhD awards.

A full story about the research development can be read on the University's website.