The largest giant centipede fossil ever found is found on a beach in the north of England. The remains of a creature belonging to the genus Arthropleura (Arthropleura) date back about 326 million years ago, that is, 100 million years earlier than the beginning of the era of dinosaurs. The discovery is reported in the Journal of the Geological Society.
“The fossil shows that Arthropleura was the largest known invertebrate of all time, even larger than the ancient sea scorpions that have held the palm for a long time,” the authors of the discovery write.
A fossilized part of a giant centipede found in a sandstone boulder in the north of England. Credit: Neil Daves
The specimen, found on a beach in Northumberland, 65 kilometers north of Newcastle, is composed of several articulated segments generally similar in shape to modern centipedes. This is only the third fossil of this genus found. Scientists estimate that the original invertebrate is the oldest and largest of all known: the discovered fossilized part of the giant centipede is 76 centimeters long, while the creature itself had a body length of 2.7 meters and weighed about 50 kilograms.
“There are only two other known Arthropleura fossils, both from Germany, and they are much smaller than our sample. Such finds are very rare, because after death, the bodies of giant centipedes tend to dismember, and it is likely that the fossil is a shell that the animal shed as it grew. Until we manage to find the fossil of the head of Arthropleura, our knowledge about them will be severely limited, “- explained the authors of the discovery.
Reconstruction of the giant millipede Arthropleura, 326 million years ago. Credit: Neil Davies
The researchers believe that in order to achieve such a large size, Arthropleura had to eat a diet high in nutrients.
“While we cannot accurately name the diet of these giant centipedes, it is known that the forest floor was rich in nutritious nuts and seeds in those days. They were also likely to be predators, feeding on other invertebrates and even small vertebrates such as amphibians, ”the authors of the discovery noted.
Arthropleura inhabited the equatorial region of the Earth and became extinct about 45 million years ago. The reason for their disappearance is unclear, but could be due to global warming, which made the climate too dry for them to survive, or to the emergence of reptiles that surpassed them in the fight for food and soon began to dominate the same habitats.