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Prehistoric sea scorpion was the size of a human being

Image: Yale University

Image: Yale University

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 11:51 AM - Bad news for the nightmare-prone: New research is out about a giant sea scorpion found in a meteorite crater in Iowa.

The good news: The creature, called Pentecopterus after a kind of ancient Greek warship, was in fossil form, and is 467 million years extinct. In its heyday, it could grow to almost six feet in length, and would have feared nothing.

"Pentecopterus is large and predatory, and eurypterids must have been important predators in these early Palaeozoic ecosystems," James Lamsdell, a Yale University researcher who is the lead author of a study on this species published this week, said in a release from Yale.

Sea scorpions like Pentecopterus have no modern analogue, but are the common ancestor to creatures like lobsters, spiders and ticks. It was an apex predator, with huge limbs used to grab prey beneath the waters of the prehistoric sea that once covered Iowa and much of today's North America.

Lamsdell says the fossils, found in 2010 after the river they were beneath was temporarily dammed, are the oldest example of sea scorpions, known as eurypterids.

"This shows that eurypterids evolved some 10 million years earlier than we thought, and the relationship of the new animal to other eurypterids shows that they must have been very diverse during this early time of their evolution, even though they are very rare in the fossil record," he said.

Though rare, the discovery site included remains of several juvenile and adult examples of the species, many of them in excellent condition within the ancient crater bed.

"The undisturbed, oxygen-poor bottom waters within the meteorite crater led to the fossils’ remarkable preservation," the University of Iowa's Huaibao Liu, who led the initial fossil dig, said.

The research has been published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

SOURCE: Yale University

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