Scientists in the US and UK have discovered fossils of a 430 million years old arthropod that carried its younglings in capsules tethered to its body. Since the babies are tethered to the parent’s body like tiny, swirling kites, researchers named the creature the Kite Runner after the 2003 best-selling novel by Khalid Hosseini. The animal measured only half an inch in length, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Kite Runner’s parenting strategy wasn’t very successful
The arthropod, called Aquilonifer spinosus, lived on the sea floor during the Silurian period alongside worms, sponges, snails and other mollusks. Derek Briggs of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History said in a statement that the juveniles would have looked like decorations or kites as the parent moved around. It indicates that arthropods had evolved a variety of brooding strategies.
Researchers believe that the Kite Runner’s parenting strategy was probably less successful, and it went extinct. While studying the fossils, scientists found ten capsules tethered to the parent’s back that contained juveniles. Each juvenile progeny was in a different stage of development. The eyeless creature is not related to any living species, according to David Legg of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Did the tethered pouches contain parasites?
The remains were found in Herefordshire, England. It was the only fossilized specimen scientists have found of the species. Scientists computerized the fossils to create a 3D reconstruction, and categorized it using “compositional phylogenetics.” They concluded that it belonged to the same group as crustaceans, modern insects, and centipedes, but it was not a direct ancestor.
Scientists considered a variety of other possibilities before concluding that the Kite Runner indeed carried its juveniles in miniature pouches tethered to its body. For instance, these pouches could have contained parasites of a different species. But it would be extremely difficult for a parasite to live tied to the Kite Runner’s tough and inedible shell. Using computer simulations, researchers found that as the ten tethered babies develop, they begin to resemble more and more with their parent.