Friday, November 23, 2007

Mega-Scorpion Fossil Surprises Experts

"This is an amazing discovery," said one scientists referring to the fossilized, 18-inch “spiked claw” of a giant scorpion that lived about 390 million years ago. The claw’s size suggests the creature it belonged to was an 8-foot-long, giant sea scorpion.

The news was picked up all over the web (I even saw it on the NBC Nightly News). This posting relies mostly on
an article at National Geographic.

According to experts, these monsters were at the top of the food chain (obviously), were cannibals (how charming), and only existed for about 10 million years (see
TIME’s coverage for the 10-million-year figure).

Why did they die out when other top predators (like alligators, sharks) have managed to exist for so much longer? Jawed vertebrates. "When fish evolve jaws during the Devonian period [416 to 359 million years ago], afterwards the sea scorpion fossil record does tail off," explained one scientist.

What they don’t explain in the articles I tracked down is whether or not jawed fish devoured the giant sea scorpions (perhaps in packs), or reduced the population of prey to a level where giant sea scorpions couldn’t feed themselves.

Although smaller sea scorpions were known to have crawled onto land (
according to the Telegraph UK, sea scorpions were “the first animal ever to have moved from water to land”), the 8-foot-long “jaekelopterus rhenaniae” probably stayed in the ocean. Its tiny legs, “would have collapsed under the weight of its body,” said an expert.

This leads me to wonder how menacing of a predator these creatures were. Is it possible that they were so large and cumbersome that they were merely scavengers? I’m not asking to be dropped in a tank with one of these beasts, but how fast could an arthropod that size really move?

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.