A number of rare, near-complete fossils of ‘sea scorpions’, or Eurypterids, have been found in Scotland over the past 150 years. These animals, now extinct, are found in rocks formed in the Palaeozoic – 445 to 300 million years ago. The most commonly preserved part of the body is the armoured shell; what makes Scottish Eurypterids so important is that far more of the anatomy is present, including what scientists believe to be sensory feelers (rather like those of modern-day spiders). The Scottish fossils have allowed palaeontologists to build up a stronger picture of these giant creatures from hundreds of millions of years ago.
Eurypterids could grow to up to one metre in size – some of the specimens from Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire reach 70 centimetres in length. It is feasible that the scorpions grew to such a size to compete with armoured fish for food and territory. Evidence of a particular species of eurypterid called Hibbertopterus has been found in Fife, near St. Andrews, in the form of a 330 million-year-old trackway. The tracks left by the six-legged water scorpion measure around 6 metres long and a metre wide, making it the one of the largest terrestrial arthropod trackways in the world. The eurypterid made the trackway as it walked across a sandbar, now turned to sandstone. It is one of Scotland’s most important fossil finds of recent years.
Dr Neil Clark, Curator of Palaeontology at the Hunterian Museum says: These fossils inspired me to a career in palaeontology. These fossil ‘sea-scorpions’ were the killing machines of the Palaeozoic with their large serrated jaws and grasping claws. Some of the early examples from Lesmahagow were found by amateur collectors – the tradition of amateur collectors finding important fossils continues to this day. This fossil could represent Scotland’s amateur fossils finding heritage.