'Oldest' Gondwana land creature discovered

September 2, 2013
The fossilised pincers of the scorpion. Credit: University of Witwatersrand

A 350-million-year-old fossilised scorpion discovered in South Africa is the oldest known land animal to have lived on Gondwana, part of Earth's former supercontinent, a university said Monday.

The new species, named Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, provides tantalising clues about the development of life before Earth's continents broke apart to form the globe that is familiar to us today, scientists said.

It is the earliest evidence yet of on Gondwana, a that included present-day Africa, South America and Australia and formed the southern part of a called Pangaea.

So far evidence of such early land life had only been found on the northern part of Pangaea —- "Laurasia," which is today North America and Asia.

"There has been no evidence that Gondwana was inhabited by land living at that time," said Robert Gess who is based at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

Gess uncovered the scorpion fragments—with a pincer and a sting clearly showing in the rock—near Grahamstown in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

By the end of the Silurian period, some 416 million years ago, predatory invertebrates such as scorpions and spiders were feeding on invertebrates such as primitive insects who were the early land colonisers.

Laurasia was known to have invertebrates by the Late Silurian and during the Devonian period, when it was separated from Gondwana by the sea.

"For the first time we know for certain that not just scorpions, but whatever they were preying on were already present in the Devonian," added Gess.

The is the fossil showing the sting of the scorpion. Credit: Wits University

"We now know that by the end the Devonian period Gondwana also, like Laurasia, had a complex , comprising invertebrates and plants which had all the elements to sustain terrestrial vertebrate life that emerged around this time or slightly later," said Gess.

The first vertebrates, from which humans eventually evolved, appeared some 350 million years ago.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal African Invertebrate.

Explore further: Ancient snakes living on Madagascar

More information: To download a copy of the paper, click here

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2 comments

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tadchem
not rated yet Sep 03, 2013
Scorpions are predators. The prey had to be there first. Time to examine those rocks for microfossils!
Neinsense99
not rated yet Sep 03, 2013
Scorpions are predators. The prey had to be there first. Time to examine those rocks for microfossils!

Not necessarily. One does not have to be on land at all times to venture out onto it. Land could be a nice base to scavenge what washes up without the competition from others in the water. You are quite right that it is a good idea to look though.

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