MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican scientists said they have identified the world’s oldest lobster fossil, a creature that was alive when Africa was only just breaking apart from the Americas some 120 million years ago.
The fossil is 4.7 inches long and its shell and legs are immaculately preserved by the mud in the southern state of Chiapas where it was found. It is dated as 120 million years old, some 20 million years older than existing lobster fossils.
“This lobster that we found in Chiapas belongs to the genus that is in Africa today,” said geologist Francisco Javier Vega of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM.
“This isn’t a surprise because at that time, 120 million years ago, Africa and America were relatively close,” he told Reuters. “It’s very likely that this genus of lobster originated here.”
South America and Africa are believed to have split into two continents around 120 million years ago.
Species sometimes evolved differently on the two continents, explaining why American lobsters today are different from their African cousins.
The juvenile “Palinurus Palaceosi” fossil, dug up in 1995 along with petrified remains of fish, crustaceans and insects, is one of the best preserved lobster fossils in the world and the first found in the Americas, Vega said.
“Practically 90 percent of this specimen’s body has been preserved. It was buried in this microscopic mud (and) has very fine morphological details,” he said.
After a decade of work, Vega and his team established the fossil’s age in 2005 but only published their findings in November 2006 and began publicizing them in the last few weeks.
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