Dr Robert Gess (pictured above), from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, discovered the 360 million year old fossilized scorpion from rocks of the Devonian Witteberg Group near Grahamstown in South Africa. Images of the fossil below show the sting and pincers of the scorpion. The ancient scorpion, named Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis
, is the oldest known land-living animal from Gondwana. Godwana
was the southern of two supercontinents that made up Pangea.
Dr. Gess says the process of terrestrialization - the movement of life onto land from the sea - began during the Silurian Period roughly 420 million years ago. The first wave of life to move out from water onto land consisted of plants, which gradually increased in size and complexity throughout the Devonian Period. This was closely followed by plant and debris-eating invertebrate animals such as primitive insects and millipedes. By the end of the Silurian period about 416 million years ago, Dr. Gess says predatory invertebrates, such as scorpions and spiders, were feeding on the earlier colonists of land.
Gess says, "Evidence on the earliest colonisation of land animals has up till now come only from the northern hemisphere continent of Laurasia, and there has been no evidence that Gondwana was inhabited by land living invertebrate animals at that time. or the first time we know for certain that not just scorpions, but whatever they were preying on were already present in the Devonian. We now know that by the end the Devonian period Gondwana also, like Laurasia, had a complex terrestrial ecosystem, comprising invertebrates and plants which had all the elements to sustain terrestrial vertebrate life that emerged around this time or slightly later."
The research paper was published in the peer reviewed journal, African Invertebrate
. A copy of the paper can be found here
Photos: Wits University