Computational biomechanical analyses demonstrate similar shell-crushing abilities in modern and ancient arthropods.

Academic Article


  • The biology of the American horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is well documented-including its dietary habits, particularly the ability to crush shell with gnathobasic walking appendages-but virtually nothing is known about the feeding biomechanics of this iconic arthropod. Limulus polyphemus is also considered the archetypal functional analogue of various extinct groups with serial gnathobasic appendages, including eurypterids, trilobites and other early arthropods, especially Sidneyia inexpectans from the mid-Cambrian (508 Myr) Burgess Shale of Canada. Exceptionally preserved specimens of S. inexpectans show evidence suggestive of durophagous (shell-crushing) tendencies-including thick gnathobasic spine cuticle and shelly gut contents-but the masticatory capabilities of this fossil species have yet to be compared with modern durophagous arthropods. Here, we use advanced computational techniques, specifically a unique application of 3D finite-element analysis (FEA), to model the feeding mechanics of L. polyphemus and S. inexpectans: the first such analyses of a modern horseshoe crab and a fossil arthropod. Results show that mechanical performance of the feeding appendages in both arthropods is remarkably similar, suggesting that S. inexpectans had similar shell-crushing capabilities to L. polyphemus This biomechanical solution to processing shelly food therefore has a history extending over 500 Myr, arising soon after the first shell-bearing animals. Arrival of durophagous predators during the early phase of animal evolution undoubtedly fuelled the Cambrian 'arms race' that involved a rapid increase in diversity, disparity and abundance of biomineralized prey species.
  • Authors

  • Bicknell, Russell DC
  • Ledogar, Justin A
  • Wroe, Stephen
  • Gutzler, Benjamin C
  • Watson, Winsor
  • Paterson, John R
  • Publication Date

  • October 24, 2018
  • Keywords

  • Cambrian
  • Euarthropoda
  • Limulus polyphemus
  • Sidneyia inexpectans
  • durophagy
  • finite-element analysis
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 20181935
  • End Page

  • 20181935
  • Volume

  • 285
  • Issue

  • 1889