KSU researchers find ancient crab fossils

Justin Armburger

We have them, the cavemen had them, and it has recently been discovered that even the dinosaurs had them.


Researchers from Kent State, such as Carrie Schweitzer, associate professor of geology at the Stark campus, and Rodney Feldmann, professor emeritus in the geology department, along with researchers from the University of Bucharest in Romania, have discovered a primitive crab species, which dates back 150 million years.

The ancient crabs, which were only about a centimeter across, do not resemble the kind of crabs that can be seen roaming beaches today. However, types of crab similar to the ones found in the fossilized reef do still exist.

“Actually there are some types of crabs that live today that look really similar,” Schweitzer said. “They live in really deep water that hardly anyone would see.”

The crab fossils, which are classified as Cycloprosopon dobrogea, are members of the Prosopidae family and existed during the Jurassic period.

Through an international joint grant program with the National Science Foundation, Schweitzer, Feldmann and a former Kent State graduate student were able to travel to Romania and work alongside four Romanian researchers in search for these fossilized crabs.

In a recent article published on LiveScience.com, a reporter wrote an article about the researchers’ discovery, titled “Ancient, legless crab discovered.”

“Exactly how the crab moved about, however, is not known, as this species and other family members had no legs extending from the carapace, or outer body covering,” the article reported.

However, Feldmann said that claim is “dead wrong.”

“It arose because one of the people writing the story sent me an e-mail and asked where the legs were on the picture sent in with the story,” Feldmann said. “I said unfortunately none of the legs and none of the belly sides had been found with the fossils.”

To clear it up, Feldmann says there are no crabs without legs. That would be like finding all of a dinosaur’s bones except for the skull, and assuming it was a headless dinosaur.

The crabs were found inside fossilized reefs in the Carpathian Mountains, located in eastern Romania.

“The reefs are pretty much like modern reefs,” Feldmann said. “Some are made out of coral, others made out of sponge reefs, and at the time they were forming they were underwater, probably shallow water.”

The reefs are more than 30 meters (100 feet) tall and 30 meters wide. They were part of the rocks that formed then, and have since been crushed by continental collisions and squeezed up into mountains, Feldmann said.

“They’re basically big cylinders,” Schweitzer said. “You can break them apart and see what’s inside.”

Schweitzer said that finding the fossilized crabs can tell researchers a lot about the way animals survive and adapt to the environment.

“Because there are some that live today, that tells us that crabs and even lobsters are pretty resilient to extinction,” Schweitzer said. “It can help us figure out what keeps animals from extinction and how they keep from extinction.”

On the other hand, Feldmann placed emphasis on the importance of this find to the environment.

Feldmann said one of the things he thinks people commonly believe is there’s something unique about the world today. But, after looking at ancient environments, one can see that animals have changed, but the environments and relationships between organisms have stayed more or less the same.

“If we can learn more about that pattern, and the interaction between plants and animals, we can apply that information to modern settings and try to understand why certain patterns are more successful than others,” Feldmann said.

Contact science reporter Justin Armburger at [email protected].