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Haug, Carolin and Haug, Joachim T. (2020): Untangling the Gordian knot — further resolving the super-species complex of 300-million-year-old xiphosurids by reconstructing their ontogeny. In: Development Genes and Evolution, Vol. 230: pp. 13-26 [PDF, 24MB]


The group Xiphosurida (horseshoe “crabs”) is today only represented by four species. However, in the fossil record, several dozen species have been described, especially from the Carboniferous (about 300 million years ago). Several species have been interpreted as representatives of Euproops or Belinurus, but there is ongoing discussion which of these species are valid and how they can be differentiated. Recent studies suggested that differences in the timing of individual development could provide information for species distinction, exemplified by studies on Euproops danae (Mazon Creek, USA) and Euproops sp. (“Piesproops”; Piesberg, Germany). For this study, we reinvestigated all Carboniferous xiphosurids from the British Coal Measures stored in the collections of the Natural History Museum London. Size comparisons of the specimens revealed nine size groups; the smaller specimens were originally labelled as Belinurus, the larger ones as Euproops. The nine size groups exhibit five different morphotypes differing in structures surrounding the posterior shield (= thoracetron): spines of different lengths and, in larger specimens, a more or less developed flange. Two of these morphotypes show significantly longer spines than the remaining specimens and could be conspecific as E. anthrax. The remaining specimens are interpreted as growth series of another species, presumably of E. rotundatus. An ontogenetic flange formation is also known from E. danae and the “Piesproops”, but the timing differs between all three species. In E. rotundatus, the flange develops rather late, but then comparably abruptly, which makes this development more metamorphic in relation to development in the other species.

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