The bizarre ancient arthropod had a surprising method of looking after its young, scientists from Yale say.
An international team of researchers has made a fascinating discovery about a strange prehistoric bug. According to a report from the Washington Post, scientists have found a 430-million-year-old arthropod named Aquilonifer spinosus that carried its young around on multiple tethers.
The bug was named after the novel “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini. “Aquila” is Latin for eagle or kite, followed by the suffix “fer,” which means to carry. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
So far, researchers have found only one kite runner fossil, which scooted across the ocean floor using its multiple legs. The fossil also had about ten juvenile kite runners attached to the parent with its own individual string.
Scientists initially weren’t sure what the tethers were there for – one early hypothesis suggested that it could be a parasite attaching itself to the arthropod, but this was quickly ruled out as researchers took a closer look. They found that the legs on the tiny creatures attached to the tethers were morphologically identical to the parent’s.
According to the study’s lead author, Derek Briggs, a Yale G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics, as well as the curator of invertebrate paleontology at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, “Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators – attaching them to limbs, holding them under the carapace, or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released – but this example is unique. Nothing is known today that attaches the young by threads to its upper surface.”
Scientists believe that Aquilonifer spinosus existed at a time when crustaceans were undergoing a massive morphological “R&D” phase. Animals tried an inconceivable number of different methods for raising young, and keeping them attached to the exoskeleton with multiple leashes appears to have had its day some 430 million years ago.
A press release from Yale University describing the details of the study can be found here.
Photo Credit: YaleNews.