Horseshoe crabs are classic "living fossils", supposedly slowly evolving, conservative taxa, with a long fossil record back to the Ordovician. The evolution of their exoskeleton is well documented by fossils, but appendage and soft-tissue preservation is extremely rare. Here we analyse details of appendage and soft-tissue preservation in Yunnanolimulus luopingensis, a Middle Triassic (ca. 244 million years old) horseshoe crab from Yunnan Province, SW China. The remarkable preservation of anatomical details including the chelicerae, five pairs of walking appendages, opisthosomal appendages with book gills, muscles, and fine setae permits comparison with extant horseshoe crabs. The close anatomical similarity between the Middle Triassic horseshoe crabs and their recent analogues documents anatomical conservatism for over 240 million years, suggesting persistence of lifestyle. The occurrence of Carcinoscorpius-type claspers on the first and second walking legs in male individuals of Y. luopingensis indicates that simple chelate claspers in males are plesiomorphic for horseshoe crabs, and the bulbous claspers in Tachypleus and Limulus are derived.
- Journal Article