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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Honey, whose crab is it?

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Man-sized sea scorpion claw found
Scale model of the scorpion with a human (Simon Powell)
How the creature compares for size with a human
The immense fossilised claw of a 2.5m-long (8ft) sea scorpion has been described by European researchers.

The 390-million-year-old specimen was found in a Germany quarry, the journal Biology Letters reports.

The creature, which has been named Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, would have paddled in a river or swamp.

The size of the beast suggests that spiders, insects, crabs and similar creatures were much larger in the past than previously thought, the team says.

The claw itself measures 46cm - indicating its owner would have been longer even than the average-sized human.

Overall, it exceeds the record for any other sea scorpion (eurypterid) find by nearly 50cm.

The eurypterids are believed to be the extinct aquatic ancestors of modern land scorpions and possibly all arachnids (the class of animals that also includes spiders).

"The biggest scorpion today is nearly 30cm so that shows you how big this creature was," said Dr Simon Braddy from the University of Bristol, UK.

It was one of Dr Braddy's co-authors, Markus Poschmann, who made the discovery in the quarry near Prum in south-west Germany.

"I was loosening pieces of rock with a hammer and chisel when I suddenly realised there was a dark patch of organic matter on a freshly removed slab," he recalled.

"After some cleaning I could identify this as a small part of a large claw. Although I did not know if it was more complete or not, I decided to try and get it out.

"The pieces had to be cleaned separately, dried, and then glued back together. It was then put into a white plaster jacket to stabilise it."

Super-sized meals

The species existed during a period in Earth history when oxygen levels in the atmosphere were much higher than today.

Claw fossil (Markus Poschmann)
The fossil was locked in a siltstone from the Carboniferous Period

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