Study Confirms Horseshoe Crabs Are Relatives Of Scorpions And Spiders

Source: Phys.org/Kelly April Tyrrell/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Photo: Perry Bill/USFWS/Wikimedia Commons

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Blue-blooded and armored with 10 spindly legs, horseshoe crabs have perhaps always seemed a bit out of place.

First thought to be closely related to crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans, in 1881 evolutionary biologist E. Ray Lankester placed them solidly in a group more similar to spiders and scorpions. Horseshoe crabs have since been thought to be ancestors of the arachnids, but molecular sequence data have always been sparse enough to cast doubt.

University of Wisconsin-Madison evolutionary biologists Jesús Ballesteros and Prashant Sharma hope, then, that their recent study published in the journal Systematic Biology helps firmly plant ancient  within the arachnid family tree.

By analyzing troves of genetic data and considering a vast number of possible ways to examine it, the scientists now have a high degree of confidence that horseshoe crabs do indeed belong within the arachnids.

“By showing that horseshoe crabs are part of the arachnid radiation, instead of a lineage closely related to but independent of arachnids, all previous hypotheses on the evolution of arachnids need to be revised,” says Ballesteros, a postdoctoral researcher in Sharma’s lab. “It’s a major shift in our understanding of arthropod evolution.”

Arthropods are often considered the most successful animals on the planet since they occupy land, water and sky and include more than a million species. This grouping includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

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Photo: Perry Bill/USFWS/Wikimedia Commons

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