That must have been scary. Imagine encountering a millipede the size of a car. Fear not, it’s been extinct for millions of years. Its fossil was found on a beach in the UK. It would be the largest known invertebrate of all time. When did it live? About 326 million years ago.
It was in the Carboniferous period. There were gigantic insects: scorpions a meter long, huge cockroaches. Even dragonflies the size of seagulls. But the prehistoric millipede surpasses them all in size. These arthropods of extraordinary dimensions are the Arthropleuras. This last millipede appeared by accident. A large block of sandstone fell from a cliff on a beach in Howick Bay, northern UK.
“It was a total fluke. The rock fell, cracked and exposed the fossil perfectly. And one of our former PhD students happened to see it as it passed by.” Cambridge professor and author of the paper, Neil Davies, tells the story.
There was a segment of the invertebrate 75 cm long and 55 cm wide. It is the largest and oldest ever discovered. The results were published in the Journal of the Geological Society. The original creature was about three meters long and may have weighed 50 kg.
“Finding fossils of giant millipedes is rare. Once they die, their bodies tend to disarticulate. It is likely that the fossil is a molted shell that the animal shed as it grew,” the professor added.
They believe it had a nutrient-rich diet. “We can’t know for sure what they ate. But there were plenty of nutritious nuts and seeds available at the time. They may have been predators feeding on other invertebrates,” Davies said.
The habitat of the car-sized millipede was located in the tropical climate of Ecuador. It possibly chose open forest habitats near the coast. There they lived for about 45 million years until the advent of the Permian period.
Their extinction may have been caused by global warming. The climate became too dry and they were unable to adapt. The rise of reptiles may have also played a role. They managed to dominate the same habitats.