A fossil of the earliest known animal predator was named after Sir David Attenborough by the geologists who discovered it.
The 560-million-year-old creature is the first of its kind ever identified and is believed to be the earliest known creature to have a skeleton.
It was found in Charnwood Forest near Leicester, where the crags date back 600 million years to the Precambrian, the earliest part of Earth’s history when life was in its infancy.
The paleontologists who discovered the fossil named it Auroralumina attenboroughii in honor of 96-year-old presenter and natural historian Sir David.
Its name is Latin for “dawn lantern” in reference to its age and resemblance to a burning torch, according to a report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Sir David was first knighted by the Queen in 1985, but last month received another knighthood when he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George – a higher distinction.
The researchers say its namesake is a relative of the group of animals that includes modern corals, jellyfish and anemones.
Sir David said: “When I was at school in Leicester I was an avid fossil hunter.
“The rocks in which Auroralumina has now been discovered were then considered so old that they dated back to long before life on the planet began. So I never looked for fossils there.
“A few years later, a boy from my school found one and proved the experts wrong.
“He was rewarded by having his name given to his discovery. Now I have – almost – caught up with him and I am really delighted.”
One of the scientists who made the find, Dr. Phil Wilby, paleontology leader at the British Geological Survey, said: “It is generally believed that modern animal groups such as jellyfish appeared 540 million years ago in the Cambrian explosion.
“But this predator predates that by 20 million years. It’s the earliest creature we know of to have a skeleton.
“So far we’ve only found one, but it’s hugely exciting to know that there must be others who hold the key to when complex life on Earth began.”
In 2007, Dr. Wilby and others spent more than a week cleaning a 100-meter rock surface with toothbrushes and pressure washers.
They made a rubber mold of the entire surface and found more than 1,000 fossils — and one in particular stood out.
dr. Frankie Dunn, of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, said: “This is very different from the other fossils in Charnwood Forest and around the world.
“Most other fossils from this era have extinct body plans and it is not clear how they are related to living animals.
“This one is clearly skeletal, with tightly packed tentacles that would have swung in the water to catch passing food, much like corals and sea anemones do today.
“It’s nothing like anything else we found in the fossil record at the time,” added Dr Dunn.