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Ancient Sea Scorpions Had Landlubber Legs

Jan 15, 2015 06:36 PM EST
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Paleontologists have unearthed the fossils of our modern day scorpions' most ancient forefathers - creatures that have long been suspected to stalk the ocean's depths hundreds of millions of years ago. Interestingly, the latest sample, however, appears to have legs that would have been ideal for steady strides on land as well.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Biology Letters, which details how the 430-million-year-old remains of scorpion ancestor Eramoscorpius brucensis boasted unique appendages for walking on dry and wet ground alike.

The remains, discovered by quarry workers in Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada, were closely analyzed by paleobiologist Janet Waddington and her associates at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.

According to the study, these unusual land-ready limbs have a short bottom section that resembles a foot. While earlier scorpions may have used a combination of stilt-like appendages and buoyancy to stay standing on the ocean floor, this foot-like addition is often recognized as something specifically adapted for land stability.

Waddington and her colleagues suspect that this scorpion was still an aquatic animal, especially considering where it was discovered and the state of the fossil's preservation. However, they suggest that this adaptation could have been very helpful during the creature's molting season.

When shedding their exoskeletons, the scorpions were most vulnerable to other predators on the ocean floor. With limbs that could help them climb a little higher, closer to dry land, they may have put themselves in territory where they were less familiar, and thus avoided.

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