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Temporal range: Mississippian–Early Permian
Arthropleura 1914.jpg
Fossil A. armata illustration
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Myriapoda
Class: Diplopoda
Subclass: Arthropleuridea
Order: Arthropleurida
Waterlot, 1934
Family: Arthropleuridae
Zittel, 1848
Genus: Arthropleura
Meyer, 1853
  • Arthropleura armata Meyer, 1853 (= Arthropleura moyseyi Calman, 1914)
  • Arthropleura britannica Andrée, 1910
  • Arthropleura cristata Richardson, 1959
  • Arthropleura maillieuxi Pruvost, 1930
  • Arthropleura mammata (Salter, 1863)

Arthropleura (Greek for Jointed Ribs) is a genus of extinct, 0.3–2.3 metre (1–8.5 feet) long millipede arthropods, native to the upper Carboniferous (340 to 280 million years ago) of what is now northeastern North America and Scotland. The larger species of the genus are the largest known land invertebrates of all time, and would have had few, if any, predators.

Description and behavior[edit]

Fossil footprints, Laggan Harbour, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Contrary to earlier and popular beliefs, Arthropleura was not a predator but a herbivorous arthropod. Because none of the known fossils have the mouth preserved, scientists suppose that Arthropleura did not have strongly sclerotized and powerful mouth parts, because such would have been preserved at least in some of the fossils. Some fossils have been found with lycopod fragments and pteridophyte spores in the gut and in associated coprolites.[1]

Fossilized footprints from Arthropleura have been found in many places. These appear as long, parallel rows of small prints, which show that it moved quickly across the forest floor, swerving to avoid obstacles, such as trees and rocks. Its tracks have the ichnotaxon name Diplichnites cuithensis.[2][3]

Arthropleura was able to grow larger than modern arthropods, partly because of the greater partial pressure of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere at that time, and because of the lack of large terrestrial vertebrate predators.[4] Arthropleura became extinct at the start of the Permian period, when the moist climate began drying out, destroying the rainforests of the Carboniferous, and allowing the desertification characteristic of the Permian.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

Arthropleura was featured in the BBC series Walking With Monsters (2005)[6] as well as in Prehistoric Park (2006)[7] and First Life (2010). It was also used as the central time-shifted creature in the second episode of the ITV series Primeval (2007), although the production increased the Arthropleura to six meters in length, and gave it a venomous bite.[8]


  1. ^ A. C. Scott, W. G. Chaloner & S. Paterson (1985). "Evidence of pteridophyte–arthropod interactions in the fossil record" (PDF). Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 86B: 133–140. 
  2. ^ Adrian P. Hunt, Spencer G. Lucas, Allan Lerner and Joseph T. Hannibal (2004). "The giant Arthropleura trackway Diplichnites cuithensis from the Cutler Group (Upper Pennsylvanian) of New Mexico". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 36 (5): 66. 
  3. ^ Briggs, D. E., Plint, A. G., & Pickerill, R. K. (1984). "Arthropleura trails from the Westphalian of eastern Canada." (PDF). Palaeontology 27 (4): 843–855. 
  4. ^ M. G. Lockley & Christian Meyer (2013). "The tradition of tracking dinosaurs in Europe". Dinosaur Tracks and Other Fossil Footprints of Europe. Columbia University Press. pp. 25–52. ISBN 9780231504607. 
  5. ^ Thom Holmes (2008). "The first land animals". March Onto Land: the Silurian Period to the Middle Triassic Epoch. The Prehistoric Earth. Infobase Publishing. pp. 57–84. ISBN 9780816059591. 
  6. ^ 2005: BBC television series Walking with Monsters by Tim Haines
  7. ^ 2006: ITV television series Prehistoric Park episode 5
  8. ^ "Arthropleura". Primeval. BBC America. Retrieved October 10, 2013. 

External links[edit]