British paleontologists have identified a tiny, ancient animal that carried around its young tethered in capsules around its body, like kites. They named it after “The Kite Runner,” the 2003 bestselling novel.
The tiny creature was found in Herefordshire, England. It lived in a geological time called the Silurian, 400 million years ago and measured a mere half an inch (about 1 cm) long. Researchers from Yale, Oxford, the University of Leicester, and Imperial College London described the new species in a new paper and named it Aquilonifer spinosus, from “aquila,” which means eagle or kite, and the suffix “fer,” which means carry.
It’s a unique behavior which has never been observed before.
“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.”
The fossil they found shows no less than 10 juveniles, at different stages of development, all attached to the parent body. The research team believes they were held like this until they were old enough to hatch. They are also considering another theory, that the attachments were in fact parasites and not offspring, but that seems highly unlikely because the way they were attached would not facilitate their access to nutrients.
“We have named it after the novel by Khalid Hosseini due to the fancied resemblance of the juveniles to kites,” Briggs said. “As the parent moved around, the juveniles would have looked like decorations or kites attached to it. It shows that arthropods evolved a variety of brooding strategies beyond those around today — perhaps this strategy was less successful and became extinct.”
After analyzing and detailing the fossil, they were able to create a digital reconstruction of the fossil, which you can see at the top of the article.
Co-authors of the paper were Derek Siveter of the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, David Siveter of the University of Leicester, Mark Sutton of Imperial College London, and David Legg of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.