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Fossil millipede found to be oldest land creature

Unlike this larger modern day specimen from New Mexico, the fossilized millipede was only half an inch long
Unlike this larger modern-day specimen from New Mexico, the fossilized millipede was only half an inch long.

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LONDON (Reuters) -- Scientists revealed that a fossilized millipede found in Britain is the remains of the oldest creature to have lived on land -- and named it after the bus driver who found it.

The tiny fossil was found on a harbor foreshore near Aberdeen, eastern Scotland, about three years ago and has since been studied by experts from the National Museums of Scotland and Yale University in the United States.

National Museums curator of invertebrate paleontology Lyall Anderson said it was not only the oldest fossilized millipede found anywhere -- at about 420 million years old -- but when scientists saw it under the microscope they could see it had holes allowing it to breath air, meaning it lived on land.

Aberdeen bus driver and fossil hunter Mike Newman, 36, told Reuters Monday he found the remains while he was out searching in the area and immediately thought: "Here we go."

"I knew this was quite well preserved, the legs were very clear, and although we had been able to infer before that they could have been able to breathe air, this was the first we were able to prove had," said Newman, who has a degree in geology.

"This was breathing air 420 million years ago."

He contacted National Museums of Scotland and an expert at Yale University, Heather Wilson, for them to study the fossil, which is about a half inch long and whose air holes cannot be seen with the naked eye.

The scientists, who reported their findings in the latest edition of the American Journal of Paleontology, have named the discovery after Newman -- Pneumodesmus newmani.

"They have named it after me, which is particularly exciting. This is one of the rarest creatures on earth. I was the first person to have seen it," he said.

Curator Anderson told Reuters: "When Mike told me about this, I was very excited because I believed it was the oldest example of this particular group, but when Heather Wilson got stuck in studying it, we realized just how important it would be."

He added: "If there was a millipede living on land at that time, then there must have been something for it to eat, there must have been plant life well developed at that time."

The piece has been donated to the National Museums of Scotland.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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