Subscribe
First Look

Kite kids? Ancient arthropod kept offspring on a short leash – literally.

Aquilonifer spinosus, or 'spiny kite bearer,' had a unique way of keeping track of its children: it tethered them to its body like kites.

  • close
    Aquilonifer spinosus, the Kite Runner, was an arthropod that lived about 430 million years ago. It carried its young in capsules or pouches tethered to its body.
    Courtesy of D. Briggs, D. Siveter, D. Siveter, M. Sutton, D. Legg
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

Scientists have discovered a bizarre, ancient creature with an oddly effective childcare strategy – it carried its young in capsules tethered to its body. 

The 430-million-year-old arthropod, distantly related to lobsters and centipedes, spent its days on the ancient sea floor, trailing its babies along behind its body in kite-like capsules.

Scientists named the arthropod Aquilonifer spinosus, or “spiny kite bearer,” in reference to its appearance and 2003 bestselling novel, "The Kite Runner."

“We have named it after the novel by Khalid Hosseini due to the fancied resemblance of the juveniles to kites,” lead researcher and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History curator Derek Briggs said in a press release.

The international team of researchers published their discovery this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Researchers found the fossil embedded in volcanic deposits in Herefordshire, England. The half-inch-long creature had 10 offspring tethered to it by long threads.

“As the parent moved around, the juveniles would have looked like decorations or kites attached to it,” says Professor Briggs in the release. “It shows that arthropods evolved a variety of brooding strategies beyond those around today – perhaps this strategy was less successful and became extinct.”

Researchers say that this creature’s childcare strategy was unusual.

“Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators – attaching them to the limbs, holding them under the carapace, or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released – but this example is unique,” said Briggs.

At first, researchers were not even sure what the pouches were. They theorized that kite-like passengers could be parasites or some sort of hitchhiker, along for the ride. But the pouches were too far from the arthropod’s body to be parasites, and the arthropod had the ability to reject hitchhikers (due to its long front appendages).

By remaining close to their parents, scientists say, the juvenile arthropods were better protected from predators. They weren’t just freeloaders, though. Researchers theorize that the juvenile arthropods were able to acquire their own phytoplankton snacks along the way.

Researchers say this discovery is particularly interesting, because arthropods don’t generally engage in this kind of “brooding,” or childcare, behavior.

Briggs told the Los Angeles Times that while crawfish occasionally tether their young to their limbs, the back-tethered arrangement is unusual.

Researchers used 3D modeling to better understand the tiny fossil.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK