Researchers have identified a previously unknown species of scorpion that lived about 240 million years ago.
The discovery came after a team of paleontologists took a detailed look at a fossil kept at the Milan Natural History Museum in Italy, according to a statement.
The fossil itself was originally found in the Besano Formation, a geological formation in the southern Alps, on Monte San Giorgio, a mountain on the Italian-Swiss border.
The formation is known to be one of the richest sites for fossils dating to the Middle Triassic, the geological era between around 247-237 million years ago, in the world.
Scorpions are arachnids, a group of eight-legged invertebrates that includes spiders and other creatures, such as ticks and mites. Scorpions also belong to the larger group of animals known as arthropods, which possess an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and other distinctive features.
The latest finding, which has been documented in a study published in the journal PalZIt’s important because terrestrial arthropods are among the rarest fossils in the paleontological record, and arachnids make up only a small part of this record, according to the study authors.
In fact, the newly described species, which has been named Protobuthus ziliolii, is the first known scorpion from the Mesozoic Era (between 252 and 66 million years ago) found in Italy. It is also only the second species discovered in the world in the genus (group of species) Protobuthus.
The new species is described based on a single specimen, which was encased in a small piece of rock.
The scorpion is only 4.4 centimeters (1.7 in) long and has been preserved almost intact, complete with eyes, legs, and a stinging tail.
With the help of ultraviolet light and a scanning electron microscope in the museum’s laboratories, the researchers determined that the fossil represents the scorpion’s body itself and not simply a discarded exoskeleton, known as an exuvia.
Arthropods have a hard shell known as an exoskeleton. They must go through molting stages to continue growing, in which they shed their old exoskeleton to reveal a new one. The abandoned exoskeleton is known as an exuvia. These generally have a better chance of fossilizing than the original body, the researchers said.
The fossil was extracted from the upper layers of the Besano deposit on the Italian side of Monte San Giorgio. The mountain’s fossils are known for their variety and exceptional state of preservation. The scorpion find has not yet been on public display at the museum.