Studying Stunning Sea Scorpion Fossils

By |2024-03-03T12:39:31+00:00February 13th, 2024|Adobe CS5, Educational Activities, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Eurypterids (Eurypterida) are often referred to as sea scorpions. Like scorpions these extinct invertebrates are members of the Arthropoda Phylum. They are distantly related to extant scorpions and spiders. It is thought that the first eurypterids evolved during the Ordovician. They thrived in the Silurian and Devonian. Giant forms evolved, animals like Jaekeklopterus, Acutiramus and Pterygotus. However, the number of taxa was severely depleted during the end-Devonian extinction event and although they survived for at least another 100 million years or so, during the Carboniferous and Permian they only made up a very small percentage of the taxa described from fossil deposits.

Two Pterygotus sea scorpion fossils.
Examples of the Pterygotioidea eurypterid lineage. Note the flattened, blade-like telson that probably helped with propulsion or acted like a rudder helping to steer the animal through the water. The fossils represent Pterygotus anglicus. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture (above) shows two Pterygotus anglicus fossil specimens on display at the London Natural History Museum. These Early Devonian fossils come from Arbroath (Scotland).

The Shape of the Telson

Note the broad, flattened, blade-like final segment of the animal. This is the telson and in the Pterygotioidea lineage (as well as in some other Superfamilies), the telson evolved into an organ to help with propulsion and steering. In other eurypterids, the telson is shaped very differently. For example, in the sea scorpion fossil (below), the telson is long and pointed.

Examining sea scorpion fossils
A fossil of a sea scorpion (eurypterid) on display at the Manchester Museum. Note the pointed end segment (telson). Probably an example of the Silurian eurypterid Eurypterus. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

The Giant Claws (Chelicerae) Seen in Some Sea Scorpion Fossils

The segmented body of eurypterids consisted of the frontal prosoma (head) and the posterior opisthosoma (abdomen). The prosoma contained the mouth and six pairs of appendages which are usually referred to as appendage pairs I to VI using Roman numerals. The segments that make up the opisthosoma are usually numbered using Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 etc. The opisthosoma comprised twelve segments in total plus the telson.

The first pair of appendages, the only pair located in front of the mouth opening, is called the chelicerae (pronounced kel-iss-ser-ray). This pair of appendages evolved into a myriad of forms in the Chelicerata (pronounced kel-iss-ser-rat-ah), the Subphylum containing the eurypterids, spiders, mites, scorpions and horseshoe crabs. This pair of appendages form the fangs seen in spiders and form the feeding limbs of horseshoe crabs.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab viewed ventrally.
An Atlantic horseshoe crab in ventral view with the six pairs of appendages and the telson labelled. The first pair of appendages (chelicerae) help to push food into the mouth opening. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Powerful Pincers Adapted for Grasping Prey

Some of these appendages, such as the chelicerae of giant pterygotids evolved into powerful pincers armed with strong claws analogous to those seen in crabs and lobsters. These chelicerae seem to be adapted for grasping and subduing prey. This suggests that many eurypterids were predatory.

A sea scorpion claw
A stunning fossil of a sea scorpion (eurypterid) claw housed at the National Museum Cardiff (Wales) photographed in 2019 when team members at Everything Dinosaur visited. The image shows a single chelicera ramus. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur.


A single appendage is referred to as a chelicera (pronounced kel-iss-ser-rah). Whereas a pair or more are referred to as chelicerae (kel-iss-ser-ray).

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that these arthropods were remarkable animals.

“Some 250 different taxa have been described and some of these sea scorpions show adaptations that indicate they may have been partially terrestrial. Venturing out onto land is supported by trace fossils potentially preserving tracks of eurypterids walking across mud close to bodies of water.”

Visit the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur’s Website.