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Origin of claws seen in 390-million-year-old fossil
Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009 - 14:37 in Paleontology & Archaeology
Learn more about: 100 million years cambrian period derek briggs horseshoe 
crabs old fossil peabody museum of natural history
Related images
(click to enlarge)
Here is a reconstruction of <i>Schinderhannes bartelsi</i>.
Elke Groening
This is a photograph of <i>Schinderhannes bartelsi</i>.
Steinmann Institute/University of Bonn
Pictured is Derek Briggs, Director of Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History.

A missing link in the evolution of the front claw of living scorpions and 
horseshoe crabs was identified with the discovery of a 390 million-year-old 
fossil by researchers at Yale and the University of Bonn, Germany. The 
specimen, named Schinderhannes bartelsi, was found fossilized in slate from a 
quarry near Bundenbach in Germany, a site that yields spectacularly durable 
pyrite-preserved fossils — findings collectively known as the Hunsrück Slate. 
The Hunsrück Slate has previously produced some of the most valuable clues to 
understanding the evolution of arthropods – including early shrimp-like forms, 
a scorpion and sea spiders as well as the ancient arthropods trilobites.

"With a head like the giant Cambrian aquatic predator Anomalocaris and a body 
like a modern arthropod, the specimen is the only known example of this unusual 
creature," said Derek Briggs, director of Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural 
History and an author of the paper appearing in the journal Science.

Scientists have puzzled over the origins of the paired grasping appendages 
found on the heads of scorpions and horseshoe crabs. The researchers suggest 
that Schinderhannes gives a hint. Their appendages may be an equivalent to 
those found in the ancient predatory ancestor, Anomalocaris — even though 
creatures with those head structures were thought to have become extinct by the 
middle of the Cambrian Period, 100 million years before Schinderhannes lived.

The fossil's head section has large bulbous eyes, a circular mouth opening and 
a pair of segmented, opposable appendages with spines projecting inward along 
their length. The trunk section is made up of 12 segments, each with small 
appendages, and a long tail spine. Between the head and trunk, there is a pair 
of large triangular wing-like limbs — that likely propelled the creature like a 
swimming penguin, according to Briggs. Unlike its ancestors from the Cambrian 
period, which reached three feet in length, Schinderhannes is only about 4 
inches long.

This finding caps almost 20 years of study by Briggs on the Hunsrück Slate. 
"Sadly, the quarry from which this fabulous material comes has closed for 
economic reasons, so the only additional specimens that are going to appear now 
are items that are already in collectors' hands and that may not have been 
fully prepared or realized for what they are," said Briggs.

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