Scientists at Yale University reported the discovery of a prehistoric species of arthropod that employed a unique but already extinct form of parenting strategy.
The ancient animal known as Aquilonifer spinosus moved around carrying its young in pouches tethered to its body resembling the appearance of swirling kites.
Derek Briggs, from Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, said that they have nicknamed the ancient animal "The Kite Runner," from the 2003 bestselling novel written by Khalid Hosseini, because of the resemblance of the creature's juvenile to kites.
The researchers initially considered that the young may have been parasites feeding off a host but eventually decided that this was not likely given that the attachment position would not have been favorable for accessing nutrients.
"Here we report a new arthropod with 10 tiny arthropods tethered to its tergites by long individual threads," Briggs and colleagues reported. "The evidence suggests that the tethered individuals are juveniles and the association represents a complex brooding behavior."
Briggs explained that how the A.spinosus has carried its young like kites attached to it shows that arthropods went through different brooding strategies over the course of their evolution.
Arthropods during this period may still be experimenting on how to best brood their young and the strategy used by the eyeless and flat-bodied creature may have been less successful and eventually became extinct.
"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," Briggs said.
The creature measured less than 0.5 inches and featured a shield that protected its head topped by antenna-like structures. The creature used its 12 pairs of legs to navigate across the sea bottom of what is now Herefordshire in England about 430 million years ago.
The region is no longer underwater today but fossils of small ancient creatures such as the A. spinosus that once lived in the oceans were preserved in hardened volcanic ash.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 4.