A 425 million years old millipede fossil is the oldest known specimen of bugs on Earth

Studying the millipede revealed that “a rapid radiative evolution” helped these organisms to come out of aquatic ecosystems and start living in “complex forest grade communities” in just 40 million years.


The discovery of a 425 million years old millipede fossil made it the oldest known specimen of bugs on the planet. Found in the Scottish island of Kerrera by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, the fossil suggests that bugs and plants had evolved a lot faster than previously thought.

Studying the millipede revealed that “a rapid radiative evolution” helped these organisms to come out of aquatic ecosystems and start living in “complex forest grade communities” in just 40 million years. The research was recently published in the journal Historical Biology.

 A 425 million years old millipede fossil is the oldest known specimen of bugs on Earth

UT Austin scientists found that the fossil millipede Kampecaris obanensis was 425 million years old. Credit: British Geological Survey.

Michael Brookfield, a research associate at the university, who led the study said, “It’s a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn’t take that long”.

The impressive change of habitat must have gone from mountain valleys, down to the lowlands, and then the worldwide, added Brookfield.

Researchers found that the millipede fossil was 75 million years younger than previously estimated. They found this by incorporating a technique called “molecular clock dating” which is based upon DNA’s mutation rate. “We radiometrically dated zircons in sediments at three sites in the UK associated with the supposed earliest millipedes,” the abstract of the study revealed. Zircons are microscopic minerals needed to accurately date the fossils.

Although it is very much possible that older fossils of both bugs and plants could exist, Brookfield said that the fact they haven’t been found already — even in “deposits known for preserving delicate fossils from this era” — could indicate that the fossils that have already been discovered are, in fact, the oldest specimens.


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