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Ancient Air-Breathers

Nature volume 31, pages 295298 | Download Citation



WHILE the records of the life of the sea have been preserved in abundance from early geological periods down to the present time, the chronicles ot the living things of the land are comparatively scanty. The early history of land-animals has therefore a peculiar interest, heightened by the rarity of the evidence from which the history must be compiled. Considerable progress, however, has recently been made in this department of investigation. Within a few years, discoveries of the remains of scorpions and insects have successively been made in older and older strata, till now they have been disentombed almost simultaneously from older Pa'æozoic rocks in three different countries of the old world Scorpions, which appear to be the most ancient type of air-breathing arachnids, have been found to be comparatively abundant in the lowest Carboniferous strata. The first Palæozoic scorpion which came to light was described by Count Sternberg, in 1835, from a specimen obtained by him from the coal-formation of Chomle, near Radnitz, in Bohemia, which, in 1836, was named Cyclopthalmus senior by Corda.1 Three years later Corda gave an account of another scorpion, from the same locality, under the name of Microlabis. From that time till 1866 these were the only Palæozoic scorpions known, but in the latter year Messrs. Meek and Worthen described two I new genera from the Coal-measures of Mazon Creek, Morris Grundy County, Illinois, under the names of Eoscorpius and Mazonia respectively.2 In 1873 Dr. Henry Woodward showed that scorpion remains, referable to the genus Eoscorpius, occur both in the Coal-measures of England and in the Carboniferous Limestone series of Scotland.3 In 1881 the present writer had the privilege of studying and describing a large suite of scorpion remains belonging to the Geological Survey of Scotland, and obtained by their officers from the lowest finer collection from the same rocks has fully confirmed the conclusion as to the essential identity of structure between the living and the Palaeozoic forms. The hope also expressed in the passage just cited has now been realised by the discovery of scorpions in the Upper Silurian beds of Scotland and Sweden, in the former by Dr. Hunter of Carluke, who obtained one from Lesma-hagow in Lanarkshire in June 1883, and in the latter by Prof. Gustav Lindström, of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, who got his last summer (1884) from Wisby in the Swedish Island of Gothland. Prof. Lindström shows that his was a land animal and a true air-breather, and though of a more lowly type than the CarCarboniferous rocks of the Scottish Border. The results were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where several species belonging to the genus Eoscorpius were described and figured.4 In that paper the following conclusion was announced:— “Although there seems to be sufficient reason to separate the genus (Eoscorpius) from any recent one, these ancient scorpions appear not to differ in any essential character from those now living. As far as the horny test, the only part now preserved to us, is concerned, they were as highly organised and specialised towards the beginning of the Carboniferous period as their descendants at the present day. It is unfortunate on that account that Messrs. Meek and Worthen should have chosen the name Eoscorpius, for the dawn of the scorpion family must have been at a much earlier period, and we may hope that their remains will yet turn up in the Devonian and Silurian plant-beds when these come to be thoroughly searched.” The subsequent study of a much bomferous and recent scorpions, was yet to be placed among the members of that ancient family. Writing to M. Alphonse Milne-Edwards on November 24, 1884, he says:—


  1. 1.

    , in Böhmischen Verhandlungen, 1836, and Wiegmann's Archiv., 1836, vol. ii. p. 360. Figured in the Transactions of the Bohemian Museum.

  2. 2.

    American Journal of Science, and series, vol. xlv. p. 25. "Geological Survey of Illinois," vol. iii. pp. 563–565.

  3. 3.

    Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vol. xxxii. p. 57.

  4. 4.

    Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. xxx. pp. 397–412, Plates XXII., XXIII.

  5. 5.

    It has been erroneously stated in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, p. 76, and elsewhere, that the specimen was pent to me in 1883. The above statement is the correct one.—BEN. N. PEACH.

  6. 6.

    Transactions of the Royal Physical Society, 1882, vol. vii. pp. 177–188, Pl. II.

  7. 7.

    Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, vol. i. Pls. xi, xii.

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