Oldest Crabs Found? Spider Crab Species In Fossil Reef Date Back 100 Million Years, Scientists Say

By: Jeanna Bryner
Published: 02/04/2013 11:37 AM EST on LiveScience

The remains of eight new species of crustaceans, including the oldest known spider crabs that lived 100 million years ago, have been uncovered in a fossil reef in northern Spain, scientists report.

The fossils were found in the abandoned Koskobilo quarry alongside other species of decapod crustaceans (a group that includes crabs, shrimp and lobsters). The two oldest-known spider crabs, named Cretamaja granulata and Koskobilius postangustus, are much older than the previous record holder, said study author Adiël Klompmaker, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

"The previous oldest one was from France and is some millions of years younger," Klompmaker told LiveScience, referring to the spider crabs. "So this discovery in Spain in quite impressive and pushes back the origin of spider crabs as known from fossils."

C. granulatawas about 0.6 inches (15 millimeters) long and showed distinctive features to suggest it was a spider crab, including two diverging spines coming out of its rostrum (the extended portion of the carapace, or shell, in front of the eyes) and a somewhat pear-shaped carapace. The fossil spider crab also sported spines on its sides at the front of the body. [See Photos of the Ancient Spider Crabs]

The reef where they were found seems to have vanished shortly after these creatures lived. "Something must have happened in the environment that caused reefs in the area to vanish, and with it, probably many of the decapods that were living in these reefs," Klompmaker said. "Not many decapods are known from the time after the reefs disappeared in the area," added Klompmaker, who details the findings in a forthcoming issue of the journal Cretaceous Research.

With a team of researchers from the United States, the Netherlands and Spain, Klompmaker collected fossils in the Koskobilo quarry in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

"We went there in 2008, and in the first two hours found two new species," Klompmaker said in a statement. "That’s quite amazing — it just doesn’t happen every day."

With the new findings, some 36 decapod species are known to have existed at the abandoned quarry, making it one of the most diverse localities for decapods during the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago), Klompmaker said.

The researchers also found there were more diverse ancient decapods living within the reefs — where they fed, mated and sought shelter — than in other parts of the ocean.

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Oldest Crabs Found? Spider Crab Species In Fossil Reef Date Back 100 Million Years, Scientists Say


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