Arthropleura (Greek for jointed ribs) is a genus of extinct millipede arthropods that lived in what is now northeastern North America and Scotland around 345 to 295 million years ago, from the Viséan stage of the lower Carboniferous Period to the Asselian stage of the lower Permian Period. The larger species of the genus are the largest known land invertebrates of all time, and would have had few, if any, predators.
|Fossil of A. armata at the Senckenberg Museum of Frankfurt|
|Life restoration of A. armata|
Arthropleura ranged in length from only about 0.3 metres long to A. armata which was 2.5 metres long. Arthropleura was able to grow larger than modern arthropods, partly because of the greater partial pressure of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere at that time and because of the lack of large terrestrial vertebrate predators.
The flattened body of Arthropleura is composed of approximately 30 jointed segments, each of which was covered by two side plates and one center plate. The ratio of pairs of legs to body segments was approximately 8:6, similar to some present-day millipedes.
For a very long time, Arthropleura was believed to be an active predator and frequently portrayed as a gigantic version of the tropical centipede genus Scolopendra. It is now known that Arthropleura was not a predator like modern centipedes, but a herbivorous arthropod like modern millipedes. Because none of the known fossils have the mouth preserved, scientists have concluded that Arthropleura did not have strongly sclerotized and powerful mouth parts, because these would have been preserved at least in some of the fossils. Some fossils have been found with lycopod fragments and pteridophyte spores in the gut and in associated coprolites.
Fossilized footprints from Arthropleura have been found in many places. These appear as long, parallel rows of small prints, which show that it moved quickly across the forest floor, swerving to avoid obstacles, such as trees and rocks. Its tracks have the ichnotaxon name Diplichnites cuithensis. Tracks from Arthropleura up to 50 cm wide have been found at Joggins, Nova Scotia.
Arthropleura became extinct soon after the end of the Carboniferous period, when the moist climate began drying out, reducing the rainforests of the Carboniferous, and allowing the desertification characteristic of the Permian.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arthropleura.|
- Lyall I. Anderson; Jason A. Dunlop; Carl A. Horrocks; Heather M. Winkelmann; R. M. C. Eagar (1998). "Exceptionally preserved fossils from Bickershaw, Lancashire UK (Upper Carboniferous, Westphalian A (Langsettian))". Geological Journal. 32 (3): 197–210. doi:10.1002/(sici)1099-1034(199709)32:3<197::aid-gj739>3.0.co;2-6.
- A profile of the Arthropleura