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Bloodsuckers from the Paleozoic

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Travel deep into earth's layers, and you'll find fewer and fewer modern animals. Eventually, you'll come across the lamprey, an early vertebrate with no solid bones and no jaws but simply a circular mouth ringed with teeth specialized for preying on fish.

The amazing thing about the lamprey, however, is not that this "primitive" creature existed before modern vertebrates, but that it still lives today in a form that has barely changed in 360 million years of evolution.

A new fossil lamprey from Devonian period rocks in South Africa shows striking similarities to modern lampreys.

There are some differences between modern and ancient lamprey's: the Devonian age creature had a much larger mouth relative to it's body, though it's body was a mere 4.2 centimeters long.

It's easy to think that evolution should leave behind early forms of life as time progresses. Again and again, we find there's no solid evidence for this idea. Animals that fill a specialized niche die hard. Even after hundreds of millions of years.

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Geologic History of West Virginia
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