Tech UPTechnologyMillipedes as big as cars roamed the Earth 326...

Millipedes as big as cars roamed the Earth 326 million years ago

Goodbye to the record of the giant sea scorpion. This is the largest fossil of a millipede ever discovered . As long as a car, almost 3 meters long, it has been discovered on the beach at Howick Bay in Horthumberland, north of Newcastle.

A creature from before the Age of Dinosaurs

The creature, named Arthropleura , was the largest known invertebrate animal of all time. Weighing 50 kilos and 2.7 meters long , it is terrifying to imagine yourself face to face with such a great creature crawling on the ground.

The colossal millipede, belonging to the genus Arthropleura , dates back to the Carboniferous Period, about 326 million years ago , about 100 million years before the dinosaurs, and is the third such fossil ever discovered.

Like modern millipedes, the creature is made up of multiple exoskeleton segments . The uncovered segment is 75 centimeters and is believed to represent about a third of the millipede’s total length.

How was it discovered?

By chance, the block of sandstone containing the fossil fell from a cliff down the beach, revealing such a great discovery.

“The way the rock had fallen, cracked and perfectly exposed the fossil, which one of our former PhD students happened to see as he passed by,” said Neil Davies, leader of the paper published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

The invertebrates and the first amphibians of the Carboniferous period lived on the scattered vegetation around a series of streams and rivers. The specimen identified by the researchers was found in a fossilized river channel: it was probably a molted segment of the Arthropleura exoskeleton that filled with sand, preserving it for hundreds of millions of years.

“Finding these giant millipede fossils is rare, because once they die their bodies tend to disjoin, so the fossil is likely to be a molted shell that the animal shed as it grew,” Davies said. “We haven’t found a fossilized head yet, so it’s hard to know everything about them.”

According to experts, to reach such a large size, the ancient creature must have had a nutrient-dense diet. Lots of vegetation, nuts, seeds, and maybe even other creatures could have contributed to its colossal size.

“While we can’t know for sure what they ate, there were plenty of nutritious nuts and seeds available in the litter at the time, and they may even have been predators feeding on other invertebrates and even small vertebrates like amphibians,” says the researcher. .


Why did they become extinct?

“The cause of their extinction is uncertain , but it could be due to global warming that made the climate too dry for them to survive, or the rise of reptiles, which outcompeted them for food and soon dominated the same habitats,” the authors say. of the studio.

Referencia: Neil S. Davies et al. The largest arthropod in Earth history: insights from newly discovered Arthropleura remains (Serpukhovian Stainmore Formation, Northumberland, England). Journal of the Geological Society, published online December 21, 2021; doi: 10.1144/jgs2021-115

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