LONDON - This was a bug you couldn't swat and definitely couldn't step on.
British scientists have stumbled across a fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion, that is of such large proportions, it would make the entire creature the biggest bug ever.
How big? Bigger than you, and at 8 feet long as big as some Smart cars. The discovery in 390-million-year-old rocks suggests that spiders, insects, crabs, and similar creatures were far larger in the past than previously thought, said Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleontologist and one of the study's three authors.
"This is an amazing discovery," he said yesterday.
"We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies. But we never realized until now just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were," he said.
The research found a type of sea scorpion that was almost half a yard longer than previous estimates and the largest one ever to have evolved. The study, published online in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters, means that before this sea scorpion became extinct it was much longer than today's average man is tall.
Jeorg W. Schneider, a paleontologist and professor at Freiberg Mining Academy in southeastern Germany, said the study provides valuable new information about "the last of the giant scorpions."
Schneider, who was not involved in the study, said these scorpions "were dominant for millions of years because they didn't have natural enemies. Eventually they were wiped out by large fish with jaws and teeth."
Markus Poschmann, a paleontologist, and coauthor of the study with Braddy, found the claw fossil several years ago in a quarry near Prum, Germany, that probably had once been an ancient estuary or swamp.
Eurypterids, or ancient sea scorpions, are believed to be the extinct aquatic ancestors of today's scorpions and possibly all arachnids, a class of joint-legged, invertebrate animals, including spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks.
Braddy said the fossil was from a Jaekelopterus Rhenaniae, a kind of scorpion that lived only in Germany for about 10 million years, about 400 million years ago. He said some geologists believe that gigantic sea scorpions evolved due to higher levels of oxygen in the atmosphere in the past.