Ancient arthopod tethered egg pouches to its back: Report

Busting the notion that modern-day parents are the first ones to keep tabs on their children to safeguard them from potential dangers, a new study has claimed that the practice began as long as 430 million years ago.

Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study described a tiny, resourceful arthropod creature, Aquilonifer spinosus, which devised a unique way for baby tracking. Aquilonifer spinosus tethered egg pouches to its back with threads and followed its juveniles as they grew, in a similar manner as if they were tiny kites. The aim was to keep the young ones tethered to the adult’s body with strings so as to keep them safe.

The researchers said something similar had found mention in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel “The Kite Runner”, and that their study was also a tribute to the great visionary writer.

Focusing on arthropods, the study authors say these are a diverse group of animals that include crustaceans, millipedes, centipedes and insects. The one mentioned in the study belong to a very early branch in the group’s evolutionary line and was less than half an inch long, blind and crawled along the sea floor. The study based its findings on its 10 offspring that were encased in tiny capsules and attached by threads to the back of its body.

Derek Briggs, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the first author on the paper, said, “This is the only occurrence of this kind of behavior known among fossil or living arthropods. Juveniles are tethered to the limbs of some living freshwater crayfish during their development, but attachment to the back of an arthropod, in this case, is unique”.

According to a report in livescience by Mindy Weisberger, “As any parent knows, keeping tabs on your developing young in a dangerous world can be a trial. A tiny, resourceful creature that lived 430 million years ago devised a novel method for such baby tracking: It tethered egg pouches to its back with threads and trailed its juveniles as they grew, as if they were tiny kites.”

Scientists recently described the arthropod – a type of invertebrate with a segmented body and exoskeleton – and its unusual parenting practice in a new study, with the animal’s kitelike appendages inspiring them to name the specimen after “The Kite Runner,” a popular 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini.

“Parents have all sorts of ways of keeping tabs on their offspring. But an ancient invertebrate found in the rocks of England had a particularly unusual trick: Babies of these spiky aquatic creatures were literally tied to their parents like swarms of tiny kites,” according to a news report published by NationalGeographic.

Yale University paleontologist Derek Briggs and his colleagues named the new species Aquilonifer spinosus, or “the spiny kite bearer,” in honor of its pointy appearance and as a reference to Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner.

In a report published by the Yale, “Researchers from Yale, Oxford, the University of Leicester, and Imperial College London described the new species in a paper published online the week of April 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators – attaching them to the limbs, holding them under the carapace, or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released – but this example is unique,” said lead author Derek Briggs, Yale’s G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. “Nothing is known today that attaches the young by threads to its upper surface.”

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