Vaderlimulus: Prehistoric Crab That Looks Just Like Darth Vader Discovered in Idaho

Updated | As if horseshoe crabs weren’t weird enough, scientists just discovered one that looks like Darth Vader.

A 245-million-year-old fossil shows a strange invertebrate with a head the shape of the letter D and a long tail. The scientists who discovered the fossil thought that the prehistoric creature looked kind of like a Star Wars villain, so they named it after the movie’s most infamous one: Vaderlimulus tricki. 

Horseshoe crabs appeared on Earth 470 million years ago, but this one lived more recently, during the late Triassic era, when the first dinosaurs were just evolving. Horseshoe crabs are actually still alive today, and that means they have survived five mass extinctions. You might even see them scuttling around beaches on the East Coast of the United States or in Eastern Asia.

Vader_horsehoe_crab Vaderlimulus tricki is 245 million years old and similar looking to the horseshoe crabs that we have today. The scientists who discovered the fossil thought that the prehistoric creature looked kind of like a “Star Wars” villain, so they named it after the movie’s most infamous one. NM Museum of Natural History & Science

Vaderlimulus lived off the coast of Idaho, during a time when the surface of the Earth had a significantly different shape and what is now the Gem State was on the coast of the supercontinent Pangea. German researchers published their study in the journal Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie.

Horseshoe crabs, whether ancient or modern, are in the subphylum Chelicerata, which means that their closest living relatives are spiders and scorpions. In common with spiders and crabs, they have exoskeletons, but horseshoe crabs are not technically crabs. Their crab-like legs are hidden under a wide shell with eyes on the top.

This body shape is not always an advantage. If they end up on their back, they can use their long tails to right themselves, but sometimes that can be hard. The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium has put together a brochure on how to flip a horseshoe crab to help it get back to doing horseshoe-crab things.

Despite having survived for hundreds of millions of years, through strange forms of evolution, the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, and several mass extinctions, the numbers of modern horseshoe crabs are depleting. They are easy to catch and are sometimes used in fertilizer. Meanwhile, some scientists harvest their blood to make medicine. While the animals are usually returned to the ocean after, those individuals have a high mortality rate and low spawn rate.

The discovery of this Darth Vader–like crab, with its oversize helmet and small body, shows the diversity of horseshoe crabs. If they can survive humanity, maybe they will live another hundred thousand years after us.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the horseshoe crab brochure is published by the National Sea Grant Program. It is published by the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium.

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