Horseshoe Crab Fossil named after Darth Vader

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This is fun. From the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the press release for a recent fossil naming:

A 245 million-year-old fossil horseshoe crab recently discovered in Idaho has been named Vaderlimulus because the animal’s shield head resembles the helmet worn by Darth Vader from the Star Wars film series. Paleontologists from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque (Allan J Lerner, Spencer G. Lucas) and the University of Colorado at Denver (Martin Lockley) just published a scientific article describing the extinct fossil horseshoe crab. Their findings were published in the latest issue of the German paleontological journal Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, which is the world’s oldest paleontological journal.

Vaderlimulus is the first North American fossil horseshoe crab from rocks of the Triassic Period. The Triassic was the first period of the Mesozoic Era (252 to 201 million years ago). Dinosaurs and mammals were just beginning their evolutionary development during the Triassic, but horseshoe crabs were already ancient by that time. Their fossil record dates back at least 470 million years ago, but fossils of horseshoe crabs are generally rare. When horseshoe crab fossils are found they are often new to science, as is the case with Vaderlimulus.

There are only four species of horseshoe crabs alive today, and their populations are decreasing. They are not true crabs but are more closely related to scorpions and spiders. Modern horseshoe crabs are often considered ‘living fossils’ due to having shown little apparent change in physical appearance over a vast period of geologic time.

“Vaderlimulus, however, has unusual body proportions that give it an odd appearance,” said lead author Allan J Lerner. This in part led the paleontological team to conclude that Vaderlimulus belonged to an extinct family, the Austrolimulidae. Members of this family were expanding their ecological range from marine into freshwater settings during the Triassic and often exhibit body modifications that provide them with a bizarre appearance by modern standards.

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2 thoughts on “Horseshoe Crab Fossil named after Darth Vader

  1. I’ve always thought fondly about horseshoe crabs even though I’ve never seen one in nature. When I was taking my first paleontology course back in what now seems ancient times, horseshoe crabs were said to be somewhat similar to trilobites — more so than other arthropods anyway. I don’t remember anymore whether it was considered a close relationship or just convergence and I’ve lost my Invert. Paleo. book.

    In the far future the “Darth” part of the name will probably cause some headscratching as to its origin and meaning. Most paleontological taxanomic names have some relationship to words in Latin or Greek which describe a feature, location, or the name of a real person.

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