Arthropleura (Greek for rib joint) was a 0.3–2.6 metre (1–8.5 feet) long relative of centipedes and millipedes, native to the Upper Carboniferous (340 to 280 million years ago) of what is now northeastern North America and Scotland. It is the largest known land invertebrate of all time, and would have had few predators.
Description and behavior EditContrary to earlier and popular beliefs, Arthropleura was not a predator but a herbivorous arthropod. Because none of the known fossils have the mouth preserved, scientists suppose that Arthropleura did not have strongly sclerotized and powerful mouth parts, because such would have been preserved at least in some of the fossils. Some fossils have been found with lycopod fragments and pteridophyte spores in the gut and in associated coprolites, clearly documenting that this animal indeed fed on plants.
Fossilized footprints from Arthropleura have been found in many places. These appear as long, parallel rows of small prints, which show that it moved quickly across the forest floor, swerving to avoid obstacles, such as trees and rocks. Its tracks have the ichnotaxon name Diplichnites cuithensis.Arthropleura evolved from crustacean-like ancestors earlier in the Carboniferous, and was able to grow larger than modern arthropods, partly because of the high percentage of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere at that time, and because of the lack of large terrestrial vertebrate predators. Fossil tracks of an arthropod dating back to the Silurian are sometimes attributed to either Arthropleura, or a Silurian- to Early-Devonian millipede called Eoarthropleura. Arthropleura became extinct at the start of the Permian period, when the moist climate began drying out, destroying the rainforests of the Carboniferous, and allowing the desertification characteristic of the Permian. Because of this, oxygen levels in the atmosphere began to decline to more modest levels. None of the giant arthropods (except for the giant dragonflies such as Meganeuropsis, which continued thriving throughout the Permian) could survive the new dry, lower-oxygen climate.
In popular cultureEditArthropleura was featured in the BBC series Walking With Monsters (2005) as well as in Prehistoric Park (2006) and First Life (2010). It was also used as the central time-shifted creature in the second episode of the ITV series Primeval (2007), although the production increased the Arthropleura to six meters in length, and gave it a venomous bite.
Arthropleura - Temporal range: 340 - 280 million years ago
Class: † Arthropleurida
Order: † Arthropleuridea Waterlot, 1934
Family: † Arthropleuridae Zittel, 1848
Genus: † Arthropleura Jordan & Meyer, 1854
Species: Arthropleura armata, Arthropleura moyseyii