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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 25;109(39):15702-5. Epub 2012 Sep 11.

Silurian horseshoe crab illuminates the evolution of arthropod limbs.

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  • 1Department of Geology and Geophysics, and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8109, USA.


The basic arrangement of limbs in euarthropods consists of a uniramous head appendage followed by a series of biramous appendages. The body is divided into functional units or tagmata which are usually distinguished by further differentiation of the limbs. The living horseshoe crabs are remnants of a much larger diversity of aquatic chelicerates. The limbs of the anterior and posterior divisions of the body of living horseshoe crabs differ in the loss of the outer and inner ramus, respectively, of an ancestral biramous limb. Here we report a new fossil horseshoe crab from the mid-Silurian Lagerst├Ątte in Herefordshire, United Kingdom (approximately 425 Myr B.P.), a site that has yielded a remarkably preserved assemblage of soft-bodied fossils. The limbs of the new form can be homologized with those of living Limulus, but retain an ancestral biramous morphology. Remarkably, however, the two limb branches originate separately, providing fossil evidence to suggest that repression or loss of gene expression might have given rise to the appendage morphology of Limulus. Both branches of the prosomal limbs of this new fossil are robust and segmented in contrast to their morphology in Cambrian arthropods, revealing that a true biramous limb was once present in chelicerates as well as in the mandibulates.

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