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Millipedes as ‘big as cars’ roamed Northern England, fossil reveals


The Arthropleura fossil at Howick beach in Northmberland. Photo: Neil Davies/PA

Following the discovery of a 326 million-year-old fossil, experts have revealed that giant millipedes as long as a car and weighing 50kg were once hunted across Northern England.

The largest ever fossil of a giant millipede was discovered by “accident” on a Northumberland beach near the village of Howick, after a section of cliff fell onto the beach.

Giant millipedes ‘as big as cars’ once roamed the north of England, after a ‘fluke’ fossil find on a Northumberland beach. Photo: Cambridge University

The creature, known as Arthropleura, must have found a nutrient-rich plant diet and may have even been predators, feasting on other invertebrates or small amphibians in order to grow so large.

The specimen is made up of multiple articulated exoskeleton segments that resemble modern millipedes in shape.

It is only the third such fossil to be discovered, and it is also the oldest and largest.

The fossil, according to experts, is just a section of the creature’s exoskeleton that it shed near a river bed and was then preserved by sand.

The segment is about 75cm long, which leads scientists to believe the creature’s entire body could have been 2.7 metres long and weighed 50kg.

Photo: J.W. Schneider. TU Bergakademie Freiberg

The creature’s remains date back to the Carboniferous Period, more than 100 million years before the Age of Dinosaurs.

Great Britain was near the equator at the time and enjoyed warm temperatures.

In January 2018, a former PhD student walking along the coast discovered it in a large block of sandstone that had fallen from the cliff.

“It was a complete fluke of a discovery,” said Dr. Neil Davies of Cambridge University’s Department of Earth Sciences and lead author of a paper on the fossil.

“The way the boulder had fallen, it had cracked open and perfectly exposed the fossil, which one of our former PhD students happened to spot when walking by,” Davies stated.

The fossil was taken to Cambridge for analysis with the permission of Natural England and the landowners, the Howick Estate.

It was so large that it took four people to transport it.

“While we can’t be sure what they ate, there were plenty of nutritious nuts and seeds available in the leaf litter at the time, and they may even have been predators that fed off other invertebrates and even small vertebrates such as amphibians,” Davies said.

The creatures crawled around the equatorial region for about 45 million years before becoming extinct, possibly as a result of global warming, which made the climate too dry for them, or as a result of the rise of reptiles, which outcompeted them for food.

In the coming year, the fossil will be on display at Cambridge’s Sedgwick Museum.

The findings were published in the Journal of the Geological Society.

This article is originally published by The Guardian. Minor edits were made.

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