Scientists have long discussed the respiratory functions of sea scorpions, but a new discovery by a University of West Virginia geologist concludes that these endangered arthropods breathed air on land.
James Lamsdale has unearthed a curious case of a 340-million-year-old sea scorpion, or ureter, from France, which has been kept in the Glasgow Museum in Scotland for the past 30 years.
Lamsdale, an assistant professor of geology at the Eberley College of Arts and Sciences, read about a “strange model” 25 years ago while doing his doctoral studies. Current research suggests that this may occasionally go ashore.
Yet nothing is known about whether the air can be breathed. The closest to euryptide is the cavalry, which lays eggs but cannot breathe above water.
These details surprised Lomsdale until he approached Victoria McCoy, a colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who asked, “Do you have access to a CT scanner?” He asked.
“We wondered if the new technology could be used to learn more about what’s preserved in this model,” said Lamsdale, head of a paleobiology lab at WVU. “I love science and detective work that goes into research. This was a cold case that we knew had possible evidence. ”
Evidence published in current biology was discovered by Lamsdale and his team through computed tomography (CT) imaging.
Researchers have been able to study the respiratory organs of the three-dimensional euryptoride, which led to two findings for Lomsdale. First, he noticed that each gill of the sea scorpion consisted of a set of plates. But the back contains fewer plates than the front, prompting researchers to question how it can even breathe.
They are zero on the pillars that connect the different plates of the gill found in modern scorpions and spiders, Lamsdale said. These pillars or small beams of tissue are called trabeculae.
“It keeps the trash cans separate so they don’t get damaged when they fall out of the water,” Lamsdale explained. “This is still the case with modern arachnids. Finding it was the last clue.
“The reason we think they are coming ashore is because they move through the water. They can lay their eggs in a more sheltered and safer environment and migrate to open water. ”
The discovery of the air-breathing structure in Euripteridis suggests that the arachnid stem genus had terrestrial characteristics, the researchers wrote, and that the ancestors of the arachnids were semi-geological.
In addition to Lamsdale and McCoy, Opal Peron-Feller of Oberlin College and Melanie Hopkins of the American Museum of Natural History are co-authors.
He believes there is more to be found from the fossil, as the case of Lamsdale dwelling behind his head for more than 20 years has been shattered. He suspected that the sea scorpion’s hind legs were expanding into a paddle shape that could be used for swimming. They had spikes on the soles of their feet, feeding them and jumping into their mouths, Lamsdale added.
“The really interesting thing is to take the meat out of this model and try to recreate exactly how the legs move and how they are placed,” Foams recreates as a living animal. Lamsdale said.
Title Image Credit: James Lamsdale