Scientists discover “the biggest insect that ever existed”
(CNN) – A fossil of a giant centipede found on a beach in northern England has revealed the “largest insect that ever lived,” according to paleontologists.
The fossil was discovered in January 2018 in a piece of sandstone that had fallen from a cliff on the beach at Howick Bay in Northumberland. The rock had cracked, revealing the fossil.
“It was pure fluke of a discovery,” said Neil Davies, professor of sedimentary geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University, who said the fossil was spotted by a former doctoral student.
“It was an incredibly exciting find, but the fossil is so big that it took four of us to carry it up to the cliff,” Davies said in a statement.
The fossilized remains of the creature, named Arthropleura, dated to the Carboniferous Period around 326 million years ago. It is more than 100 million years before the appearance of the dinosaurs.
When alive, the creature is estimated to be 55 centimeters (22 inches) wide and up to 2.63 meters (8.6 feet) long, weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds). That would make it the largest known invertebrate of all time – larger than the ancient sea scorpions that previously held the title, the statement said. Invertebrates are animals without a backbone.
“This is definitely the biggest bug that has ever existed,” Davies confirmed via email.
This is only the third Arthropleura fossil to have been discovered. The other two were found in Germany and were much smaller than the new specimen.
To reach such a height, they must have followed a nutritious diet. By this time Britain was on the equator and invertebrates and early amphibians probably lived off vegetation growing in a series of streams and rivers.
Researchers believe the fossilized skeleton was likely a segment of molted exoskeleton that filled with sand, preserving it.
“Finding these giant centipede fossils is rare, because once they are dead their bodies tend to fall apart. (separated at the joints), so it’s likely that the fossil is a molten shell that the animal lost as it grew, ”Davies said in the statement.
“We haven’t found a fossilized head yet, so it’s hard to know everything about them,” he added.
The Arthropleura animals crawled for about 45 million years before becoming extinct. It is not known exactly why they disappeared, but it could be due to a changing climate that did not suit them. Or it could have happened during the emergence of reptiles, which came to dominate the same type of habitat.
The fossil will be on display to the public at the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge, England, in 2022. The research has been published in the Journal of the Geological Society.
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