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Temporal range: Wenlock
Reconstruction of P. newmani
Photomicrograph of the type specimen
Scientific classification
P. newmani
Binomial name
Pneumodesmus newmani
Wilson & Anderson, 2004 [1]

Pneumodesmus newmani is a species of myriapod that lived during the late Wenlock epoch of the Silurian period around 428 million years ago.[1][2][3] Although a 2017 study dates its occurrence based on zircon data analysis as the Early Devonian (Lochkovian),[4] the 2023 study confirmed the age identification of the 2004 study through palynological, palaeobotanical and zircon analyses incorporating newly discovered additional data.[3] It is one of the first myriapods, and among the oldest creatures to have lived on land.[5] It was discovered in 2004, and is known from a single specimen from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.[2]

Discovery and naming[edit]

The fossil of P. newmani was found by Mike Newman, a bus driver and amateur palaeontologist from Aberdeen, in a layer of sandstone rocks on the foreshore of Cowie, near Stonehaven (Cowie Formation).[6] The species was later given the specific epithet "newmani" in honour of Newman. The holotype is kept in National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.[7] The genus name is said to be derived from the Greek pneumato, meaning "air" or "breath",[1] in reference to the inferred air-breathing habit.[1] The proper word in ancient Greek for "air" or "breath" is however pneuma (πνεῦμα).[8]


The single, 1 cm-long fragment of P. newmani depicts small paranota (keels) high on the body, long, slender legs. There are six body segments preserved, and the dorsal portion of each segment is ornamented with a horizontal bar and three rows of roughly hexagonal bosses (bumps).[1] Myriapods are the group that include millipedes and centipedes, and Pneumodesmus newmani would have resembled a millipede in appearance. However it did not belong to the same branch of myriapods as modern millipedes.[1]


The fossil is important because its cuticle contains openings which are interpreted as spiracles, part of a gas exchange system that would only work in air. This makes P. newmani the earliest documented arthropod with a tracheal system, and among the first known oxygen-breathing animal on land.[5][9]

Trace fossils of myriapods are known dating back to the late Ordovician[1] (the geologic period preceding the Silurian), but P. newmani may be the earliest body fossil of a myriapod, if it had been dated at 428 million years ago (Silurian, late Wenlock epoch to early Ludlow epoch). However, if based on 414 million years ago (Early Devonian (Lochkovian)) estimated from Zircon age estimate,[4] it cannot be called as the oldest myriapod, or the oldest of air-breathing terrestrial arthropods, because records from Kerrera (425 millions years ago) and Ludlow (420 millions years ago) become older than that.[10][7] In spite of the recent competing arguments, the 2023 study suggests that this taxon is still most likely the earliest body fossil of a myriapod, with its age reconfirmed as the late Wenlock epoch (around 430 million years ago) through various analyses.[3]

During the Silurian, the rocks that would later be part of Scotland were being laid down on the continent of Laurentia, in a tropical part of the Southern Hemisphere.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Heather M. Wilson & Lyall I. Anderson (2004). "Morphology and taxonomy of Paleozoic millipedes (Diplopoda: Chilognatha: Archipolypoda) from Scotland". Journal of Paleontology. 78 (1): 169–184. doi:10.1666/0022-3360(2004)078<0169:MATOPM>2.0.CO;2.
  2. ^ a b "Fossil find 'oldest land animal'". BBC News. 25 January 2004. Archived from the original on 18 August 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Wellman, C.H.; Lopes, G.; McKellar, Z.; Hartley, A. (2023). "Age of the basal 'Lower Old Red Sandstone' Stonehaven Group of Scotland: The oldest reported air-breathing land animal is Silurian (late Wenlock) in age". Journal of the Geological Society. The Geological Society of London. doi:10.1144/jgs2023-138. hdl:2164/22754. ISSN 0016-7649.
  4. ^ a b Stephanie E. Suarez; Michael E. Brookfield; Elizabeth J. Catlos; Daniel F. Stöckli (2017). "A U-Pb zircon age constraint on the oldest-recorded air-breathing land animal". PLOS ONE. 12 (6): e0179262. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1279262S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0179262. PMC 5489152. PMID 28658320.
  5. ^ a b "Fossil millipede found to be oldest land creature". CNN (from Reuters). 27 January 2004.
  6. ^ "Pneumodesmus newmani Exhibition". Stonehaven Guide. Archived from the original on 24 December 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  7. ^ a b Paul Selden & Helen Read (2008). "The oldest land animals: Silurian millipedes from Scotland" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Myriapod & Isopod Group. 23: 36–37. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2024.
  8. ^ Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R. (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. With the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  9. ^ Rowland Shelley & Paul Marek (1 March 2005). "Millipede Fossils". East Carolina University. Archived from the original on 27 May 2011.
  10. ^ Brookfield, M. E.; Catlos, E. J.; Suarez, S. E. (3 October 2021). "Myriapod divergence times differ between molecular clock and fossil evidence: U/Pb zircon ages of the earliest fossil millipede-bearing sediments and their significance". Historical Biology. 33 (10): 2014–2018. doi:10.1080/08912963.2020.1762593. ISSN 0891-2963.
  11. ^ "Cowie". BBC Scotland. Archived from the original on 29 September 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2024.