HAMPDEN-SYDNEY, Va. — Three paleontologists say they have discovered the oldest land animal fossils in North America.
The fossils, which date back 390 million years, indicate that early land animals were larger than previously thought and bolster the theory that animal life at the time fed on decaying vegetation.
William A. Shear, Patricia Gensel and Andrew Jeram announced the discovery in a recent edition of the science journal Nature.
The three found and studied fossils of five 2-inch millipedes, a 4-inch scorpion and an extinct centipede-like creature that was almost 8 inches long.
"As soon as I looked at them, I knew they were different," said Shear, a Hampden-Sydney biology professor and paleontologist.
The new fossils were collected in 1980 and 1992 in New Brunswick and Quebec, Canada, by Gensel, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina and a specialist in plant paleontology.
Gensel sent the fossils to Shear, who first examined the scorpion fossil. He then sent the fossil to Jeram, an expert on scorpion fossils at the Belfast Museum in Northern Ireland, who verified Shear's findings.