350-Million-Year-Old Fossilized Scorpion Discovered in South Africa is Oldest Known Land Animal to Have Lived in Southern Portion of Earth's Former Supercontinent

A new species has been discovered in South Africa called Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, and is now considered to be the oldest known land animal to have lived on Gondwana, a part of Earth's former supercontinent. The scorpion species provides interesting clues about the development of life before Earth's continents broke apart to form the world that is familiar to us today.

It's also the earliest evidence to date of terrestrial animals on Gondwana, a land mass which included present-day Africa, South America and Australia, and made up the southern portion of the supercontinent Pangea. So far, evidence of early land life such as this had only been found on the northern part of Pangea, an area known as Laurasia. Laurasia included North America and Asia.

Robert Gess of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, who discovered the scorpion fragments near Grahamstown in South Africa's Eastern Cape, says:

"There has been no evidence that Gondwana was inhabited by land living invertebrate animals at that time."

About 416 million years ago at the end of the Silurian period, predatory invertebrates including scorpions and spiders were feeding on invertebrates such as primitive insects. Laurasia was known to have invertebrates by the Late Silurian and during the Devonian period when it was separated from Gondwana by the sea.

Gess pointed out:

"For the first time we know for certain that not just scorpions, but whatever they were preying on were already present in the Devonian. We now know that by the end the Devonian period Gondwana also, like Laurasia, had a complex terrestrial ecosystem, comprising invertebrates and plants which had all the elements to sustain terrestrial vertebrate life that emerged around this time or slightly later."

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal African Invertebrate.