Shush! World's Oldest Resting Scorpion
This is a drawing of the scorpion who left behind the only fossil body ever found.
James O'Hanlon, Macquarie University
Animals and insects that resemble flowers deceive in a unique and powerful way, since who could resist a beautiful flower?
In this case, the "orchid" is actually a predatory insect -- the orchid mantis. Researcher James O'Hanlon of Macquarie University and colleagues recently studied the unusual insects in Malaysia.
"Their bright floral colors and petal-shaped legs create a tantalizing lure for insects," O'Hanlon told Discovery News, adding that they attract flying insect pollinators more than actual flowers in the region do. "So it seems that orchid mantises not only look like flowers, but they may also even beat flowers at their own game as they deceptively attract their unsuspecting prey."
The star-nosed mole is in the record books for a few different reasons. First, it is the world's fastest eating mammal. Second, its nose looks like a coral-colored flower, allowing the mole to poke out of the ground as though it were a plant.
Finally, the flower or "star" on its nose has the highest density of nerve endings known in any mammalian skin, according to biologist Diana Bautista of the University of California at Berkeley and colleagues. By studying the nose, they are hoping to identify genes that may mediate touch and pain, leading to better treatments for chronic pain conditions.
Fred Hsu, Wikimedia Commons
Flower hat jellyfish, native to the West Pacific off the coast of southern Japan, sport translucent, pinstriped bells that make up this marine animal's "flower."
The tentacles below can sting, and are used to catch small fish. Humans who have the misfortune of encountering the flower hat jellyfish can also be stung, and often suffer a nasty rash as a result.
Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons
The term anthozoa comes from the Greek words for flower and animals. These flower animals are so-called because their earliest stage of growth takes on a floral appearance.
Relatives of anthozoa were in existence possibly as early as 570 million years ago, putting those ancestors well ahead of the dinosaurs. They are among the oldest known types of animals on Earth.
Yuvalif, Wikimedia Commons
The devil's flower mantis has three distinct looks. It can, as this image shows, appear as its true insect self. Here, one was snapped marching on a car tire. But among plants, the other two looks become more evident.
Imagine this mantis sitting on a green leaf. It would seem to be an extension of that leaf, or just blend in with the green. When the insect lifts its forelegs, however, bright colors are revealed. In this pose, it resembles an orchid. To other devil's flower mantises, the pose signals a threat, making the aggressor look large and mean.
The High Fin Sperm Whale, Wikimedia Commons
"Lionfish" refers to an entire genus of venomous marine fish. They sometimes resemble floating tropical flowers, but the appendages are actually spiky and full of venom.
Flowers display colors, in part, to attract pollinators. Color for lionfish is meant to do just the opposite: repel others. Like a bright red stop sign, the color is meant to gain attention. The different colors tell would-be predators that the lionfish can be dangerous.
Darius Bau, Wikimedia Commons
When wrapped around a twig, the pale tussock caterpillar could easily be mistaken for an unusual bright yellow-hued flower. The coloration, as for the lionfish, warns others not to eat it.
The caterpillar's color and appearance also functions as a flower disguise. Once the caterpillar turns into a moth, all of that psychedelic color fades away, leaving behind beige and brown tones.
BerndH, Wikimedia Commons
Animals and insects aren't the only ones that fool others with their looks. Flowers also sometimes take on the appearance of animals.
The bird of paradise is a classic example. But nature seems to be teasing us with the monkey orchid. From a distance, this flower looks just like a lavender and white orchid. Up close, however, the flower resembles a monkey, complete with a head, long arms and a tail.
Orchi, Wikimedia Commons
With Halloween around the corner, special mention goes to the orchid Dracula gigas. While it may not look like Dracula, it does take on human-like features.
From above, as seen in this photo, it appears to have eyes, a nose, a mouth and quite a dramatic hairdo.
It may not look like much, but together with other tracks in the 280 million-year-old rocks of Prehistoric Trackways National Monument in southern New Mexico, this vague form has been identified as the one and only fossil impression of a scorpion body ever found. The scorpion rested here for a time, then scurried off, and the imprint of its body eventually turned to stone.
The age of the trace fossil, as body impressions and tracks are called, takes scorpions way back to the early Permian. That confirms that scorpions have survived a lot of gigantic mass extinction events between then and now. What’s more, seeing how the carbon dioxide levels in the Permian atmosphere were probably three times what they are today on Earth, it’s not likely anthropogenic climate change will stop these hardy arthropods either.
“We gave it the name Alacranichnus, which means scorpion trace (alacran is Spanish for scorpion and ichnos is Greek for trace),” said Spencer Lucas, curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (NMMNHS). The discovery was just published in the journal Ichnos: An International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces by scientist at the museum in Albuquerque.
In the paper Lucas, Allan Lerner and Sebastian Voigt describe the trace fossil as a “substantial addition to the poorly known Permian fossil record of scorpions that demonstrates that scorpions were present in the Early Permian coastal plain…. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the way of morphological characters evident from the resting trace that can help determine which particular type of scorpion made it.”
Scorpions are the oldest known arachnids, the researchers explain, with some fossils of probably aquatic scorpions dating back to the Silurian Periods about 430 million years ago. Later, in the Carboniferous (359 million to 299 million years ago), scorpions took to land. But then the fossils peter out.
“There is an extremely large gap in the North American scorpion fossil record following the Upper Carboniferous,” write Lucas and his colleagues. In fact, Permian scorpion fossils are rare worldwide, and only found in bits and pieces. There are no more North American scorpion fossils until the Middle Eocene (about 45 million years ago).
The unique new fossil will be displayed in the New Mexico museum’s upcoming Paleozoic Hall.
Top Image: Photo of the rock with the imprint of what is believed to be a scorpion. Credit: New Mexico Museum of Natural History