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Youngest Sea Scorpion Fossil Found in Australia


Woodwardopterus freemanorum was over 1 m (3.3 feet) in length and lived some 252 million years ago (Late Permian epoch) in a freshwater environment.

Life reconstruction of Woodwardopterus freemanorum. Image credit: Alison Douglas.

Life reconstruction of Woodwardopterus freemanorum. Image credit: Alison Douglas.

Woodwardopterus freemanorum lived in what is now Australia approximately 252 million years ago.

The ancient creature belongs to Eurypterida (sea scorpions), an extinct order of aquatic predatory invertebrates that lived from the early Late Ordovician to the Late Permian epoch.

It was a massive monster, probably over 1 m in length, that lived in freshwater lakes or rivers.

A large, incomplete fragment of Woodwardopterus freemanorum’s cuticle with distinctive ornamentation was found in the rural town of Theodore in central Queensland in the 1990s.

The specimen is at least 11 million younger than any previously known eurypterid fossil.

It was examined by Dr. Andrew Rozefelds from Queensland Museum and Central Queensland University and Dr. Markus Poschmann of the Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe RLP.

“Using published dates for volcanic sediments preserved in the coal measures the Theodore sea scorpion has been accurately dated as living 252 million years ago and after extensive research this particular fossil turned out to be the last eurypterid known from anywhere in the world,” Dr. Rozefelds said.

“This is just before the end-Permian extinction event. The eurypterids disappeared, along with other groups of animals, at this time.”

“This new tantalizing fossil helps fill the gap in our knowledge of this group of animals in Australia, and indeed worldwide,” he added.

“This particular sea scorpion would have been among the largest predators in the lakes and rivers of the Theodore area at this time.”

The discovery of Woodwardopterus freemanorum is described in a paper in the journal Historical Biology.

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Markus J. Poschmann & Andrew Rozefelds. The last eurypterid — a southern high-latitude record of sweep-feeding sea scorpion from Australia constrains the timing of their extinction. Historical Biology, published online November 30, 2021; doi: 10.1080/08912963.2021.1998033



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