TORONTO -- The fossil of a new extinct animal species found in half-a-billion-year-old rocks will be the centre of an upcoming exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, home to the palaeontologists that made the discovery.

The Toronto-based museum announced the discovery on Wednesday, saying the new species, named Titanokorys gainesi dates further back than dinosaurs and was rare for its size during the period in which it lived.

“This is an animal that is half-a-billion years old and lived in the ocean at the time,” museum curator Jean-Bernard said. “It’s about 50 to 60 centimetres long. It doesn’t seem like a lot today but at the time of the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago, this was a giant.”

“The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling, this is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found.”

The museum described the Titanokorys as having "multifaceted eyes, a pineapple slice-shaped, tooth-lined mouth, a pair of spiny claws below its head to capture prey and a body with a series of flaps for swimming."

Caron said the animal is very “strange” looking, adding that it resembles a floating head wearing a large helmet.

Researchers said the animal did have an “incredibly long head, saying the head is “so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads.”

“These enigmatic animals certainly had a big impact on Cambrian seafloor ecosystems,” Caron said. “Their limbs at the front looked like multiple stacked rakes and would have been very efficient at bringing anything they captured in their tiny spines towards the mouth.”

The fossil, unearthed at Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, will be part of a permanent exhibition that will launch in December. The exhibit will also feature other fossils found across the country.

“This is going to be a flagship new gallery about the early evolution of life up to the dinosaurs,” Caron said. “There’s billions of years of life before the dinosaurs and people will be excited to hear these stories.”