Key Earth Science Links
Silurian/Devonian Period—Oldest land animals: millipedes, wingless insects, and other arthropods
Fossil find 'oldest land animal'. BBC News. Short news story from January, 2004, describing the find of the fossil millipede, Pneumodesmus newmani , from Silurian rocks in Scotland, which is the oldest (428 million years old) known land animal. Includes two pictures.
Oldest Insect Delights Experts. BBC News. Short news story from February, 2004, describing the find of a fragmentary insect, Rhyniognatha hirsti , from the Rhynie Chert in Scotland, which is the oldest (396-407 million years old) known insect. Includes a picture.
Fossil Insect Classification. Virtual Museum, Tree of Life Project. Short description of insect evolution and chart of insect taphonomy (classification) identifying the age of the oldest known fossil for each order. The oldest are from the Silurian. Click on an order to see images of fossils. For those who want to see a mosquito in amber (like in the movies, but real) click on the order Diptera.
Introduction to the Myriapoda . University of California, Berkeley. Short discussion of the myriapods, including marine examples from the Cambrian, possible land? burrows from the Ordovician, and the oldest? known land fossils (millipedes) from the Silurian.
The Biota of Early Terrestrial Ecosystems: The Rhynie Chert--Learning Resource, University of Aberdeen. A great resource. To learn about early land animals choose "fossil fauna," which includes pictures and descriptions. This site also provides sections on the history of the Rhynie Chert, its age, geologic setting, chert description, plant and animal taphonomy, process of fossilization (silicification), fossil flora (descriptions and pictures), evidence for plant and animal interactions, interpretations of the environment of deposition with modern analogs, significance to science, glossary, and bibliography.
The Oldest Fossil Insect in the World . Andrew Ross, Natural History Museum London. Short, non-technical description of Rhyniella praecursor , a fossil springtail, considered by some as the oldest evidence of fossil insects, and the new discovery of fossil insect? mandibles of Rhyniognatha hirsti (includes picture), which may be from a silverfish insect or winged insect (although the oldest known complete winged insects are from the Carboniferous Period. Both fossils are from the Rhynie Chert.
Archaeognatha-Bristletails. Tree of Life Project. Short description of bristletails, which are possibly the oldest (near-complete) fossil insects. The oldest fossil bristletail is a fossil from the Devonian (388-390 million years old) of Quebec.
Feeding on the New Bounty: Plants as Food. Devonian Times. The title is misleading since there is little evidence for early land animal herbivory (plant eating). Short discussion (sometimes technical) of early land community ecology, which discusses the lack of herbivores, and how some early arthropods, such as millipedes, chose detritovory (eating detritus-dead plants) and others, such as scorpions, chose predatory niches.
Scorpionida. Tree of Life Project. Short, technical description of the taphonomy/classification of scorpions.
Spider Origins. Australian Museum Online. Short, general discussion of spider evolution, starting with Attercopus fimbriungus , from the Devonian (380 million years ago). Includes a spider time line and links to information about spiders.
Ecological History of the Terrestrial Insects. V.V. Zherikhin. Moscow State University. On-line, technical text (in English) of a book published by the Russian Academy of Sciences, History of Insects. The introduction stresses the importance of understanding modern insect ecology for studying ancient insects. The section on insect origin and early insect evolution discusses many of the potential "earliest fossil insect" finds and the various problems with many of the fragmentary remains and then follows with discussion of plant terrestrialization (colonizing the land) and how that influenced arthropod and insect ecology.
Arthropod Evolution . Tree of Life Project. Click on one of the branches of arthropod classification to get a summary of the group, their defining characteristics, and discussion of their phylogenetic (classification) relationships. Some pages have more information than others.