Huge Crustacean From 400 Million B.C.

In Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke wrote about strange creatures that lived on Earth eons ago:

Recently, the first one was captured; it's a kind of huge crustacean, like the sea scorpions that once lived on Earth.

We're not sure if they're intelligent, and that may even be a meaningless question. But certainly they are highly organized social animals, with primitive technologies - though perhaps that's too strong a word. As far as we've discovered, they don't show any greater ability than bees or ants or termites...

Most important of all, they've discovered metal...

Science fiction fans are delighted by the recent discovery of an enormous fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion. If the rest of its body was proportional, it was the largest bug that ever lived.

(Giant sea scorpion claw 46 cm. long)

Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleontologist, was one of three authors of a paper announcing the discovery. He said that the fossil was from a Jaekelopterus Rhenaniae, a kind of scorpion that lived only in Germany for about 10 million years, about 400 million years ago.

The entire organism was about eight feet long; according to scientists, sea scorpions did not grow claws that were substantially larger on one side or the other, unlike other crustaceans.

(Giant sea scorpion bigger than a man)

He stated that the sea scorpions were not only in competition with fish that were heavily armored, the scorpions were also cannibalistic.

"The competition between this scorpion and its prey was probably like a nuclear standoff, an effort to have the biggest weapon," he said. "Hundreds of millions of years ago, these sea scorpions had the upper hand over vertebrates -- backboned animals like ourselves."

Read more at Nature and LiveScience. Thanks to Eric Nodacker for the tip and the sf reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/21/2007)

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