505-Million-Year-Old Ancestor of Lobsters and Scorpions Named after Actor Johnny Depp

Dr David Legg, a paleontologist with the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, has discovered an ancient creature with scissor hand-like claws and named it after the actor Johnny Depp for his portrayal of Edward Scissorhands in the 1990 film about an artificial man who has scissors for hands.

Reconstruction of Kootenichela deppi (Adapted from David Legg, 2013)

Reconstruction of Kootenichela deppi (Adapted from David Legg, 2013)

The 505-million-year-old fossil, named Kootenichela deppi, is a distant ancestor of lobsters and scorpions.

“When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands. Even the genus name, Kootenichela, includes the reference to this film as ‘chela’ is Latin for claws or scissors. In truth, I am also a bit of a Depp fan and so what better way to honour the man than to immortalize him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea?” explained Dr Legg, who has described Kootenichela deppi in a paper published in the Journal of Paleontology.

Kootenichela deppi belongs to a group known as the ‘great-appendage’ arthropods, or megacheirans, which refers to the enlarged pincer-like frontal claws that they share. The ‘great-appendage’ arthropods are an early relation of arthropods, which includes spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, insects and crabs.

“Just imagine it: the prawns covered in mayonnaise in your sandwich, the spider climbing up your wall and even the fly that has been banging into your window and annoyingly flying into your face are all descendants of Kootenichela deppi. Current estimates indicate that there are more than one million known insects and potentially 10 million more yet to be categorized, which potentially means that Kootenichela deppi has a huge family tree,” Dr Legg said.

Specimens of Kootenichela deppi (David Legg, 2013)

Specimens of Kootenichela deppi (David Legg, 2013)

Kootenichela deppi lived in very shallow seas, similar to modern coastal environments, off the cost of British Columbia in Canada, which was situated much closer to the equator 500 million years ago. The sea temperature would have been much hotter than it is today and although coral reefs had not yet been established, the creature would have lived in a similar environment consisting of sponges.

Kootenichela deppi was about 1.5 inches (4 cm) long with an elongated trunk for a body and millipede-like legs, which it used to scuttle along the sea floor with the occasional short swim. It also had large eyes composed of many lenses like the compound eyes of a fly. They were positioned on top of movable stalks called peduncles to help it more easily search for food and look out for predators.

Dr Legg believes that Kootenichela deppi would have been a hunter or scavenger. Its large Edward Scissorhands-like claws with their elongated spines may have been used to capture prey, or they could have helped it to probe the sea floor looking for sea creatures hiding in sediment.

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Bibliographic information: David Legg. 2013. Multi-Segmented Arthropods from the Middle Cambrian of British Columbia (Canada). Journal of Paleontology 87(3): 493-501