Tiny vampires in ancient seas: evidence for predation via perforation in fossils from the 780-740 million-year-old Chuar Group, Grand Canyon, USA

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 May 25;283(1831):20160221. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0221.


One explanation for the Early Neoproterozoic expansion of eukaryotes is the appearance of eukaryovorous predators-i.e. protists that preyed on other protists. Evidence for eukaryovory at this time, however, is indirect, based on inferences from character state reconstructions and molecular clocks, and on the presence of possible defensive structures in some protistan fossils. Here I describe 0.1-3.4 µm circular holes in seven species of organic-walled microfossils from the 780-740 million-year-old Chuar Group, Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA, that are similar to those formed today by predatory protists that perforate the walls of their prey to consume the contents inside. Although best known in the vampyrellid amoebae, this 'vampire-like' behaviour is widespread among eukaryotes, making it difficult to infer confidently the identity of the predator. Nonetheless, the identity of the prey is clear: some-and perhaps all-of the fossils are eukaryotes. These holes thus provide the oldest direct evidence for predation on eukaryotes. Larger circular and half-moon-shaped holes in vase-shaped microfossils from the upper part of the unit may also be the work of 'tiny vampires', suggesting a diversity of eukaryovorous predators lived in the ancient Chuar sea.

Keywords: Neoproterozoic; Precambrian palaeontology; Vampyrellida; acritarch; drill holes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arizona
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Eukaryota / physiology*
  • Food Chain*
  • Fossils* / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Oceans and Seas

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.6pr6c