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An Enormous Scorpion Claw January 4, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Animals, Environment, Evolution, Ocean, Think About It.
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Scorpion

Scorpions today are big enough in terms of the sting they can pack from their fairly small bodies. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if they were even bigger? Well, imagine no more because new evidence indicates that this may indeed be the case. A massive fossil claw of a scorpion was recently found in Germany and it suggests that ancient arthropods – including spiders and crabs – were a lot bigger than their modern day versions.

An Incredible Discovery

The claw of this very old scorpion – formally known as Jaekelopterus rhenaniae – was found by Markus Poschmann of Yale University. The scorpion is part of a group which comprises some of the largest extinct arthropods. The massive extinct scorpions are believed to be ancestors of modern scorpions. Poschmann has now co-authored a report with Erik Tetlie, a postdoctoral associate who is also at Yale. The report – published online in the Royal Society Biology Letters – details the incredible discovery. According to Tetlie:

Imagine an eight-foot-long scorpion. The claw itself is a foot-and-a-half long – indicating that these ancient arthropods were much larger than previous estimates – and certainly the largest seen to date.

Lead author Simon Braddy described the excitement of the discovery:

This is an amazing discovery. We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies, but we never realized, until now, just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were.

Ancient ScorpionCredit: Braddy et al. Royal Society Biology Letters. The images to the right put an awesome perspective on the size of the ancient sea scorpion. The images show the reconstructed fossil claw of the ancient sea scorpion Jaekelopterus rhenaniae (e) and its size relative to a human male and to the sea scorpion (a), the trilobite Isotelus rex (b), the dragonfly Meganeura monyi (c), and the millipede Arthropleura armata (d). I will sum up my impression with two words: Wow! Eeeeep!

Fossils Yield Clues

The change in size of arthropods is one of those things that gets geologists scratching their heads and debating over how this change occurred. Evolution can definitely get scientists and the rest of us wondering just what happened to trigger the change.

Tetlie described some of the theories shared in the debate:

While some believe they evolved with the higher levels of atmospheric oxygen that were present in the past, some say they evolved in a parallel ‘arms race’ with early armored fish that were their likely prey.

Whew!

Personally, I’m quite pleased that these crawling critters aren’t the jumbo-sized creepies they were millions of years ago. Despite my curiosity and interest in scorpions, I still yelp in fear if I encounter one in my travels!

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