Paleontologists have named a species of extinct horseshoe crab Vaderlimulus, after the villain Darth Vader from the Star Wars film series. That’s because the 245 million-year-old fossil horseshoe crab, recently discovered in Idaho, has a head shield that looks a lot like Darth Vader’s helmet (see image above.) Paleontologists described their findings in the December 2017 issue of the German paleontological journal Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, which is the world’s oldest paleontological journal.
Vaderlimulus is the first North American fossil horseshoe crab from rocks of the Triassic Period, 252 to 201 million years ago. During the Triassic, dinosaurs and mammals were just beginning their evolutionary development, but horseshoe crabs were already ancient. Their fossil record dates back at least 470 million years, but fossils of horseshoe crabs are generally rare. When horseshoe crab fossils are found they are often new to science, as is the case with Vaderlimulus.
There are only four species of horseshoe crabs alive today, and their populations are decreasing. They are not true crabs but are more closely related to scorpions and spiders.
Modern horseshoe crabs are often considered ‘living fossils’ because they’ve shown little apparent change in physical appearance over a vast period of geologic time. Allan J. Lerner, of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, is the study’s lead author. He said in a statement:
Vaderlimulus, however, has unusual body proportions that give it an odd appearance.
This is one reason the paleontological team concludes that Vaderlimulus belonged to an extinct family, the Austrolimulidae. Members of this family were expanding their ecological range from marine into freshwater settings during the Triassic and often exhibit body modifications that provide them with a bizarre appearance by modern standards.
Bottom line: Scientists have named an extinct species of horseshoe crab Vaderlimulus, after Star Wars’ Darth Vader.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.