A sea scorpion measuring more than 5 and a half feet long once roamed the seas 460 million years ago, according to the recent discovery of a fossil in Iowa which was detailed in the science open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology
The species — Pentecopterus decorahensis, which was previously unknown — was excavated from the upper layer of the Winneshiek Shale in northeastern Iowa within an ancient meteorite impact crater and mostly submerged by the Upper Iowa River, according to a statement from Biomed Central
Some large body segments of the discovered fossil suggest that the sea scorpion grew as long as 1.7 meters or 5 and a half feet, making it the largest known eurypterid from its era.
"The new species is incredibly bizarre," Yale University's James Lamsdell, the study's lead author, said in the Biomed Central statement. "The shape of the paddle — the leg which it would use to swim — is unique, as is the shape of the head. It's also big, over a meter and a half long."
"Perhaps most surprising is the fantastic way it is preserved — the exoskeleton is compressed on the rock but can be peeled off and studied under a microscope. This shows an amazing amount of detail, such as the patterns of small hairs on the legs. At times it seems like you are studying the shed skin of a modern animal — and incredibly exciting opportunity for any paleontologist," he continued.
For example, researchers found the spine present on some limbs allowing them to see that it had similarities to those found on horseshoe crabs where they aided in processing food. The rearmost legs, similar to swimming crabs, helped the sea scorpion move through the water and could have also had sensory functions, according to Biomed Central.
Lamsdell and his fellow study authors named the new species Pentecopterus decorahensis after an ancient Greek warship, the penteconter, which resembles the sea scorpion outline and parallels in likely predatory behavior.
"In the prehistoric oceans, this was one bad bug," CNN's Ed Payne wrote
. "Imagine a creature nearly six feet in length, with a long head, a narrow body and large limbs for grasping and trapping prey. It was part of the eurypterid family, a group of ancient creatures that are the ancestors of modern spiders, lobsters and ticks."
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