This rendering provided by Yale University shows a Pentecopterus decorahensis. Earth’s first big predatory monster was a weird water bug, newly found fossils show. Almost half a billion years ago, Earth’s dominant large predator was a sea scorpion that grew to 5 feet 7 inches with a dozen claw arms sprouting from its head and a spike tail, according to a new study. (Patrick J. Lynch/Yale University via AP)
Three words: Monster sea bug
September 10, 2015
Earth's first big predatory monster was a weird water bug. It was as big as Tom Cruise. That is what newly found fossils show.
It was almost half a billion years ago and way before the dinosaurs roamed. That is when Earth's dominant large predator was a sea scorpion. It grew to 5-foot-7. A dozen claw arms sprouted from its head and a spike tail. This is according to a study.
Scientists found signs of these monsters of the prehistoric deep in Iowa, of all places.
Geologists at the Iowa Geological Survey found 150 pieces of fossils. They were about 60 feet under the Upper Iowa River. Part of the river had to be temporarily blocked. That allowed the researchers to collect the fossils. Then scientists at Yale University figured out they were a species from about 460 million years ago. Back then Iowa was under an ocean.
All the action was in the sea then. And it was pretty small scale, said James Lamsdell. He is a professor at Yale. And he was the lead author of the study. It was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.
"This is the first real big predator," Lamsdell said. "I would not have wanted to be swimming with it. There is something about bugs. When they are a certain size, they should not be allowed to get bigger."
The creature is named Pentecopterus decorahensis. The name comes from an ancient Greek warship. It actually is not a bug by science definitions, Lamsdell said. It is part of the eurypterid family. So it is basically a sea scorpion.
Those types of creatures "are really cool," said Joe Hannibal. He is the curator of invertebrate paleontology. He works at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Hannibal was not part of the study. But he praised it for being well done. "This species is not particularly bizarre - for a eurypterid."
It is unlike modern land scorpions. One reason is because this creature's tail did not sting. It was used more for balance and in swimming. But half this creature's length was tail, Lamsdell said.
There were larger sea scorpions half way around the world at the same time. But those were more bottom feeders instead of dominant predators, he said.
Lamsdell could tell by the way the many arms come out of the drawn-out head how this creature grabbed prey. Then it pushed the food to its mouth.
"It was obviously a very aggressive animal," Lamsdell said. "It was a big angry bug."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was the sea bug found in Iowa, which is hundreds of miles from the ocean?
Write your answers in the comments section below