Strange crab fossil was a bizarre, beautiful blend

The 90-million-year-old Callichimaera perplexa was a one-of-a-kind creature that was the size of a quarter
crab fossil You know what? Weird or not, this fellow was just adorable! (Elissa Martin, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)


One of the coolest things about fossils is the way that they keep reminding us of this simple truth.

Anything is possible. (Or is that actually 'Anything is fossil-ble'? Anyway...)

No matter what limits we try to put on the natural world around us, fossils continually prove that lifeforms that would appear alien today not only once existed ... they thrived.

Case in point? Callichimaera perplexa (you can say Kahli-KY-mer-ah pur-PLECKS-ah), a 90-million-year-old crab-like creature that was a special sort of weirdo.

Platypus of the prehistoric seas

In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a beast that had the head of a lion, a tail that was a snake's head, a goat's head on its back (wait, really?), and a bunch of other scary stuff for some reason. It was definitely odd.

The team behind the discovery of this crab fossil gave it a name that means "perplexingly beautiful chimera", which sounds about right to us. C. perplexa is basically a mini-chimera without the nightmares!

It also reminds us of the platypus — a modern animal that defies the usual boundaries and characteristics. So what made this crab fossil so unique? Have a peek!

Though its claws resembled those of a modern frog crab, it had a shell like a lobster's, a mouth like a shrimp's, and paddle legs that look quite a bit like those of another extinct creature, the sea scorpion. Then there were its eyes — bizarro googly eyes that were enormous for its body size.

Like, we said ... weird!

Natural at one time

Embed from Getty Images

The C. perplexa shares some similarities to eurypterids, or sea scorpions, creatures that lived between 467 and 251 million years ago. Were they connected somehow? (Getty Embed)

But then again, who are we to say what is weird? The C. perplexa may indeed be strange to us now, but it obviously had its time on Earth and we're sure that it fit right in. Speaking of which, paleontologists are very excited about how this crab fossil fits into the evolutionary history of crabs.

Fossils like this one are what give researchers insight into how crabs became the animals that they are today — and to which ancient creatures they're most directly related. What really made a crab a crab?

Turns out that that's a beautifully perplexing question for science to answer.

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