A prehistoric horseshoe crab fossil which is about 245 million years old has turned out to be a new species, one that researchers named after Darth Vader, the famous character from the Star Wars franchise.
The species was named Vaderlimulus tricki by researchers from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, located in Albuquerque.
The Horseshoe Crab Fossil, an Unusual Find
The lead author of the study on this fossil, Allan J. Lerner, noted the crab’s odd proportions and unusual appearance. Specifically, its name is based on the fact that the crab had a head shield that is shaped somewhat like the iconic black mask that Darth Vader wears throughout the original Star Wars films.
The name also gives homage to Trick Runions, the paleontologist who discovered the fossil in Idaho.
Vaderlimulus tricki is the first horseshoe crab fossil found in North America. It was discovered in rocks from the Triassic Period. Today, only the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) lives on this continent, the rest being found in Asia.
Dinosaurs first began to evolve during the Triassic Period, although they would not become the dominant species until the Jurassic Period, millions of years later. The first mammals also began to develop at this time.
When a horseshoe crab fossil is found, it usually introduces a new species to scientists. Sometimes called “living fossils,” they are very ancient animals that have experienced little in terms of any physical changes since prehistoric times. However, only four species are alive today, and even the numbers of those are decreasing.
Despite their name, horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs. In fact, their closest living relatives would be arachnids like scorpions and spiders.
Other than the Atlantic horseshoe crab, the three other extant species are the mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda), the Tachypleus gigas, and the Tachypleus tridentatus.
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