The fossil of a 245-year-old horseshoe crab was recently discovered in Idaho and was given an oddly appropriate name. One doesn't even have to look closely to see that it looks like the helmet of Star Wars character Darth Vader.
There's a new Vader around but just like the original Vader, this one won't be walking around in a black cape anytime soon. Just in time for the upcoming Star Wars film, the fossil of a recently discovered prehistoric horseshoe crab was named Vaderlimulus after Darth Vader because of its close resemblance to the character's helmet. It was found near Idaho, and is the first recorded North American horseshoe crab fossil from the Triassic period.
The Vaderlimulus has large spines and likely inhabited the shallow freshwater coastal areas of Pangaea. At the time when mammals and dinosaurs were just beginning to develop during the Triassic period, horseshoe crabs had already been around for a long time. In fact, fossil records of horseshoe crabs date back to over 400 million years ago.
That said, horseshoe crabs are very rare and when they are found, they are often new to the scientific world.
The team's findings are published in the journal Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, the world's oldest paleontological journal.
Modern Horseshoe Crabs
Today, there are only four living species of horseshoe crabs that swarm U.S. coastlines every year. They are often considered as "living fossils" because they predate dinosaurs by over 200 million years and because they showed merely little changes in physical appearance during the course of their existence.
They have hard exoskeletons shaped like a horseshoe and long tails which they use to move in the water or to flip back into position if they get overturned on shores. Contrary to common belief, horseshoe crabs do not use their tails as weapons. Further, despite the name, horseshoe crabs aren't really true crabs. In fact they are more closely related to spiders and scorpions.
Horseshoe crabs are very important to modern medicine because their blue blood has the ability to immediately clot when there are bacterial toxins present. Because of this incredible ability, researchers harvest horseshoe crab blood every year and use it to test medical devices, vaccines, and intravenous drugs for the presence of bacteria.
Unfortunately, the number of Atlantic horseshoe crabs has been in decline since 1990 because of habitat loss and because they are being used as commercial bait.