CLAREMONT, Calif. — It lived during the Cambrian Period about 500 million years ago when animal life was brand new, and experts have named the newly discovered fossil after someone in Claremont.

Part of why the discovery is shocking is because it's so big. The newly discovered species, known officially as Titanokorys gainesi, is about 2 feet long.  

What You Need To Know

  • Robert Gaines is a professor of geology and the vice president for Academic Affairs at Pomona College

  • He has been on several scientific expeditions to Canada

  • During his last trip, the researchers discovered a new fossil and they named it for Gaines

  • The discovery sheds more light on how life began on Earth

This ancient creature reveals more about how life began on Earth.

Rigorous research takes mental strength as well as some physical strength. Robert Gaines is a professor of geology and the vice president for Academic Affairs at Pomona College. Between meetings and lectures, he cut some of the rocks he got from his last scientific expedition to the Canadian Rockies in 2018.

During this most recent trip, the team also discovered a new species distantly related to crustaceans. It was one of the largest animals of its time, so they nicknamed it the "mothership."

Then, the paleontologists in the group decided to name it after Gaines in a recently published paper. They chose the name Titanokorys gainesi because it roughly translates to "Gaines's giant helmet."

"I'm glad to be able to participate in discoveries like this, but being able to be honored in this way is really actually humbling," Gaines said.

Once the name is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it's official, making it the first find named for Gaines. It's important to note you can't name a fossil after yourself. The writers refer to Gaines as "instrumental."

Although the species lived and died millions of years ago, the accomplishment lives forever, along with the shocking realization that comes with it: the origin of animals didn't happen slowly as Darwin would have predicted. Instead, the fossil record shows sparks of diversification that happened incredibly rapidly, almost instantaneously geologically speaking.

"It's a very special moment in the history of life certainly on Earth and maybe in the universe," Gaines said.

Breakthroughs like this take dedication. While in the field, Gaines spends several weeks at a time camping in the Kootenay National Forest near Banff, Canada. Helicopters have to haul off their samples because the location is so remote. The researchers constantly have to be on guard for bears, moose and wolverines, all of which have made at least one appearance at the worksite across their many trips. 

Yet Gaines is unfazed.

"We have espresso first thing every morning. It's nice to sit outside at night and watch the stars, nibble on a piece of chocolate. It feels pretty luxurious," Gaines said.

Gaines hopes to continue his research in Canada in 2022.