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Giant Sperm Discovered in Australia

Update Date: May 13, 2014 07:14 PM EDT

Giant sperm have been discovered by scientists, who were able to identify preserved giant sperm from tiny shrimps that lived at least 17 million years ago.

Australian scientists from the University of New South Wales say the giant sperm may have been its maker's body. Researchers found evidence that the sex cell is longer than the male's entire body. They note that the sperm may have been compactly coiled up inside the sexual organs of the fossilized freshwater crustaceans called ostracods.

"These are the oldest fossilized sperm ever found in the geological record," researcher Professor Mike Archer, of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who has been exploring Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site for more than 35 years, said in a news release.

"The Riversleigh fossil deposits in remote northwestern Queensland have been the site of the discovery of many extraordinary prehistoric Australian animals, such as giant, toothed platypuses and flesh-eating kangaroos. So we have become used to delightfully unexpected surprises in what turns up there," Archer added. "But the discovery of fossil sperm, complete with sperm nuclei, was totally unexpected. It now makes us wonder what other types of extraordinary preservation await discovery in these deposits."

"About 17 million years ago, Bitesantennary Site was a cave in the middle of a vast biologically diverse rainforest. Tiny ostracods thrived in a pool of water in the cave that was continually enriched by the droppings of thousands of bats," explained Archer.

"This amazing discovery at Riversleigh is echoed by a few examples of soft-tissue preservation in fossil bat-rich deposits in France. So the key to eternal preservation of soft tissues may indeed be some magic ingredient in bat droppings," added Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, who is a specialist in extinct bats and their ecological role in Riversleigh's ancient environments.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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