Hexbyte Glen Cove Millipedes ‘as big as cars’ once roamed Northern England, fossil find reveals

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Reconstruction of the giant millipede Arthropleura, which lived in the Carboniferous period, 326 million years ago. Credit: Neil Davies

The largest-ever fossil of a giant millipede—as big as a car—has been found on a beach in the north of England.

The fossil—the remains of a creature called Arthropleura—dates from the Carboniferous Period, about 326 million years ago, over 100 million years before the Age of Dinosaurs. The fossil reveals that Arthropleura was the largest-known invertebrate animal of all time, larger than the ancient sea scorpions that were the previous record holders.

The specimen, found on a Northumberland beach about 40 miles north of Newcastle, is made up of multiple articulated exoskeleton segments, broadly similar in form to modern millipedes. It is just the third such fossil ever found. It is also the oldest and largest: the segment is about 75 centimeters long, while the original creature is estimated to have measured around 2.7 meters long and weighed around 50 kilograms. The results are reported in the Journal of the Geological Society.

The fossil was discovered in January 2018 in a large block of sandstone that had fallen from a cliff to the beach at Howick Bay in Northumberland. “It was a complete fluke of a discovery,” said Dr. Neil Davies from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, the paper’s lead author. “The way the boulder had fallen, it had cracked open and perfectly exposed the fossil, which one of our former Ph.D. students happened to spot when walking by.”

Fossilised section of the giant millipede Arthropleura, found in a sandstone boulder in the north of England. Credit: Neil Daves

Unlike the cool and wet weather associated with the region today, Northumberland had a more in the Carboniferous Period, when Great Britain lay near the Equator. Invertebrates and early amphibians lived off the scattered vegetation around a series of creeks and rivers. The specimen identified by the researchers was found in a fossilized river channel: it was likely a molted segment of the Arthropleura’s exoskeleton that filled with sand, preserving it for hundreds of millions of years.

The fossil was extracted in May 2018 with permission from Natural England and the landowners, the Howick Estate. “It was an incredibly exciting find, but the fossil is so large it took four of us to carry it up the cliff face,” said Davies.

The fossil was brought back to Cambridge so that it could be examined in detail. It was compared with all previous records and revealed new information about the animal’s habitat and evolution. The animal can be seen to have only existed in places that were once located at the Equator, such as Great Britain during the Carboniferous. Previous reconstructions have suggested that the animal lived in coal swamps, but this specimen showed Arthropleura preferred open woodland habitats near the coast.

Scientists remove a fossil of the giant millipede Arthropleura from a northern England beach. Credit: Neil Davies

There are only two other known Arthropleura fossils, both from Germany, and both much smaller than the new specimen. Although this is the largest Arthropleura fossil skeleton ever found, there is still much to learn about these creatures. “Finding these giant millipede fossils is rare, because once they died, their bodies tend to disarticulate, so it’s likely that the fossil is a molted carapace that the animal shed as it grew,” said Davies. “We have not yet found a fossilized head, so it’s difficult to know everything about them.”

The great size of Arthropleura has previously been attributed to a peak in during the late Carboniferous and Permian periods, but because the new fossil comes from rocks deposited before this peak, it shows that oxygen cannot be the only explanation.

The researchers believe that to get to such a large size, Arthropleura must have had a high-nutrient diet. “While we can’t know for sure what they ate, there were plenty of nutritious nuts and seeds available in the at the time, and they may even have been predators that fed off other invertebrates and even small vertebrates such as amphibians,” said Davies.

Arthropleura animals crawled around Earth’s equatorial region for around 45 million years, before going extinct during the Permian period. The cause of their extinction is uncertain, but could be due to global warming that made the climate too dry for them to survive, or to the rise of reptiles, who out-competed them for food and soon dominated the same habitats.

The fossil will go on public display at Cambridge’s Sedgwick Museum in the New Year.

Neil Davies is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.

More information:
The largest arthropod in Earth history: insights from newly discovered Arthropleura remains (Serpukhovian Stainmore Formation, Northumberland, England), Journal of the Geological Society (2021). DOI: 10.1144/jgs2021-115

Millipedes ‘as big as cars’ once roamed Northern England, fossil find reveals (2021, December 20)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected

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Adult coelacanth scales. Credit: Laurent Ballesta

Once thought to be extinct, lobe-finned coelacanths are enormous fish that live deep in the ocean. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on June 17 have evidence that, in addition to their impressive size, coelacanths also can live for an impressively long time—perhaps nearly a century.

The researchers found that their oldest specimen was 84 years old. They also report that coelacanths live life extremely slowly in other ways, reaching maturity around the age of 55 and gestating their offspring for five years.

“Our most important finding is that the ‘s age was underestimated by a factor of five,” says Kélig Mahé of IFREMER Channel and North Sea Fisheries Research Unit in Boulogne-sur-mer, France. “Our new age estimation allowed us to re-appraise the coelacanth’s body growth, which happens to be one of the slowest among marine fish of similar size, as well as other life-history traits, showing that the coelacanth’s life history is actually one of the slowest of all fish.”

Earlier studies attempted to age coelacanths by directly observing on the scales of a small sample of 12 specimens. Those studies led to the notion that the fish didn’t live more than 20 years. If that were the case, it would make coelacanths among the fastest-growing fish given their large size. That seemed surprising considering that the coelacanth’s other known biological and ecological features, including and low fecundity, were more typical of fish with slow life histories and like most other deep-water species.

In the new study, Mahé, along with co-authors Bruno Ernande and Marc Herbin, took advantage of the fact that the French National Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, MNHN) has one of the largest collections of coelacanths in the world, ranging from embryos in utero to individuals of almost two meters. They were able to examine 27 specimens in all. They also used new methods, including polarized light microscopy and scale interpretation technology mastered at IFREMER’s Sclerochronology Centre, Boulogne-sur-mer, France, to estimate individuals’ age and body growth more precisely than before.

While earlier studies relied on more readily visible calcified structures called macro-circuli to age the coelacanths much as counting growth rings can age a tree, the new approaches allowed the researchers to pick up on much tinier and nearly imperceptible circuli on the scales. Their findings suggest that the coelacanths actually are about five times older than was previously thought.

A coelacanth embryo with yolk sac from the MNHN collection. Credit: MNHN

“We demonstrated that these circuli were actually annual growth marks, whereas the previously observed macro-circuli were not,” Mahé says. “It meant that the maximum longevity of coelacanth was five times longer than previously thought, hence around a century.”

Their study of two embryos showed they were both about five years old. Using a growth model to back-calculate gestation length based on the size of offspring at birth, the researchers got the same answer. They now think that coelacanth offspring grow and develop for five years inside their mothers prior to birth.

“Coelacanth appears to have one of, if not the slowest life histories among marine , and close to those of deep-sea sharks and roughies,” Mahé says.

The researchers say that their findings have implications for the coelacanth’s conservation and future. They note that the African coelacanth is assessed as critically endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species of IUCN.

“Long-lived species characterized by slow life history and relatively low fecundity are known to be extremely vulnerable to perturbations of a natural or anthropic nature due to their very low replacement rate,” Mahé says. “Our results thus suggest that it may be even more threatened than expected due to its peculiar life history. Consequently, these new pieces of information on coelacanths’ biology and are essential to the conservation and management of this species.”

In future studies, they plan to perform microchemistry analyses on coelacanth scales to find out whether a coelacanth’s growth is related to temperature. The answer will provide some insight into the effects of global warming on this vulnerable species.

More information:
Current Biology, Mahé et al.: “New scale analyses reveal centenarian coelacanths Latimeria chalumnae” www.cell.com/current-biology/f … 0960-9822(21)00752-1 , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.054

Coelacanths may live nearly a century, five times longer than researchers expected (2021, June 17)
retrieved 17 June 2021
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Hurricane Zeta slams into Louisiana coast thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Hurricane Zeta slams into Louisiana coast

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This RAMMB/NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Zeta moving in the US Gulf Coast towards Louisiana on October 28, 2020, at 17:40 UTC

Hurricane Zeta barreled through the southern United States as a Category 2 storm Wednesday, bringing dangerous winds and surging ocean waves as New Orleans residents were left without power.

Zeta, which was downgraded to a tropical storm during Thursday’s early hours, would “continue to spread well inland across portions of northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, the Carolinas, and southeastern Virginia,” according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

It was packing maximum sustained wind speeds of 60 miles (95 kilometers) per hour, the center said at 0900 GMT.

Early on Thursday, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city was dealing with many downed power lines.

“Downed lines can be energized and are VERY dangerous,” she tweeted. “Please continue to stay inside and let public safety officials respond to #Zeta hazards.”

The city emergency medical service tweeted that there had been one “electrocution fatality” from a downed power line.

Mississippi governor Tate Reeves had signed an emergency declaration ahead of Zeta’s approach earlier Wednesday, and Alabama governor Kay Ivey took to Twitter to advise state residents to prepare for the storm and “listen to all local advice.”

Hurricane and storm surge warnings were lifted for Louisiana, but governor John Bel Edwards urged people to stay inside.

“Today has been hard,” he tweeted. “As we continue to weather #Zeta and feel its effects, everyone needs to keep listening to their local leaders and follow any curfews that may be in place.”

Heavy wind and sheets of rain cut through New Orleans, and power outages were reported in various areas.

Edwards said in an earlier radio interview that nearly 500,000 were without power in the state, including 78 percent of New Orleans.

New Orleans’s iconic French Quarter was largely deserted ahead of Hurricane Zeta’s arrival

Officials had urged residents to evacuate vulnerable areas or stock up on emergency supplies of food, water and medication for at least three days.

Curfews were in effect for harder-hit coastal areas.

Zeta hit just six days before the presidential election, although it was not expected to affect the outcome, with early voting in Louisiana already finished.

French Quarter deserted

As rainfall and winds began ahead of the storm’s arrival, New Orleans residents rushed to prepare, boarding up windows, moving vehicles and boats to higher ground and in some cases stacking sandbags to guard against potential flooding.

The hurricane was the fifth major storm to hit Louisiana this year.

The New Orleans area has repeatedly had to be on guard, though it has been spared so far this year, with the brunt of earlier storms hitting cities such as Lake Charles, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) west near the Texas border.

This time, though, local officials were urgently warning against complacency.

Flooding was less of a threat this time for the low-lying city—80 percent of which flooded during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina—because the storm was fast-moving at 25 miles per hour.

New Orleans remains traumatized by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people 15 years ago.

Annie Quattlebaum, a 39-year-old biologist, and a group of friends visiting from Denver were stranded when the storm caused their flight to be canceled.

Municipal police remove fallen trees from the streets after the passage of Hurricane Zeta, in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo state, Mexico

They were roaming the city’s famous French Quarter, largely deserted on Wednesday afternoon, in search of an open store to buy drinks and food as they prepared to hunker down in their hotel for the night.

“We’ve been told by friends that are familiar with this area and familiar with the weather to have snacks and have your phone charged,” said a mask-wearing Quattlebaum.

“We’re not going to do anything stupid. We’re just going to hunker down while it’s going on.”

‘These poor guys’

Along the shores of Lake Catherine, on the far northeastern edge of the city where many locals have weekend homes and commercial fishermen operate, boats were lined up along the higher ground of roadsides.

At Island Marina, Geoff Wallace, 60, secured wood and other material he was using for a construction project to keep it from flying away and becoming missiles.

“It’s just a part of living here,” he said, gray skies shadowing the marshland and a shrimp boat behind him.

“These poor guys,” he said of the marina owners. “They’ve had to go through this four or five times this year. It gets tiring.”

The hurricane brought strong winds and heavy rains to Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Tuesday after making landfall near the resort town of Tulum.

It is the 27th storm of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season.

In September, meteorologists were forced to use the Greek alphabet to name Atlantic storms for only the second time ever, after the 2020 hurricane season blew through their usual list, ending on Tropical Storm Wilfred.

Scientists say there will likely be an increase in powerful storms as the ocean surface warms due to climate change.

© 2020 AFP

Zeta slams into southern US, downgraded to tropical storm (Update) (2020, October 29)
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