“Not bloody likely.” That’s my first thought.
Scanning the Smithsonian email for signs of intelligent life in our solar system, I have spotted a rude headline.
Your Oldest Ancestor Was Probably Sponge Like
Now, my oldest known ancestor was a Bamford who was married in Plymouth in 1722, and there was nothing remotely sponge-like about him. But to be fair, I read on.
A new study may settle a long-running debate
about which creature was the first to evolve
from a universal common animal ancestor.
Oh. That sort of ancestor.
But my forehead wrinkles again. What’s this about a long-running debate? A debate about what, exactly?
Researchers have split into two camps.
Some say it was a simple sponge-like creature that first formed,
while others believe it was the more complex creature like the comb jelly,
which has a nervous system, a gut and the ability to move.
Do these guys get out much? I can only imagine the heated debates at their conferences.
Sponge! Jelly! Was too! Was not!
Heated, and completely unnecessary, because I believe I can resolve this debate pretty quickly. Although I’ve never heard of them before, the way the debate has been framed in this article makes it clear that the first creature to evolve from a universal common animal ancestor must have been the comb jelly.
After all, I myself, now one of the oldest living descendants of the universal common animal ancestor, am a complex creature just like the comb jelly in my essentials. Nervous system? Check. Gut? Check. Occasional unhappy conflation of the two? Check. The ability to move? Check, albeit an ability not much exercised.
And, of course, comb jellies are beautiful hermaphrodites with “plates of giant fused cilia, known as combs, which run in eight rows up and down their bodies. The combs act like tiny oars, propelling the comb jelly through the water.”
OK, I admit we differ slightly there. Maybe I should check out the other option.
Sponges, it turns out, are covered with tiny pores, can be either encrusting (that’s the group that became extroverts in us descendants, I understand) or free-standing (leading to introverts, obviously), and sometimes grow into strange shapes. Check, check, and check. Looking good.
They’re also beautiful hermaphrodites and effective filter feeders.
Hmm. You know, this is harder than it looks. But does it really matter?
The debate may seem pedantic, but . . .
identifying the first animals has big implications for biology . . .
knowing the correct branching order at the root of the animal tree
is fundamental to understanding our own evolution,
and the origin of key features of animal anatomy.
All right then. Carry on, guys. After all, who am I to get in the way of fundamental understandings? But given the long-running and, yes, heated debate about the whole notion of evolution, is the eventual resolution of the “Sponge! Jelly!” debate going to get much attention?
Not bloody likely. But that’s just my first thought.
Check out these beauties for yourself: