Calli chimera, “the beautiful chimera”, is the poetic name given to a species of crab that is more than 90 million years old, discovered by a paleontologist at the University of Alberta.
Javier Luque unearthed these fossils almost by chance, during a one-month field trip to Colombia. After a long day of walking, he decided to take a break on a rocky mass.
“I gave one last hammer, to see what I could find. It’s amazing, because as soon as I hit the rock, she split. She was completely covered with fossils, exclaims the researcher. There were thousands, it was very exciting!”
The scientist did not believe his eyes when he saw these fossils, because they are the antithesis of the classic crab, which has a rounder and flat body and sunken eyes.
The fossils were barely larger than a coin and, luckily for Javier Luque, were extremely well preserved, allowing him to examine them down to the smallest detail.
In paleontology, reality often surpasses fiction, and these fossils are a good example. We could never have known that a beautiful chimera like that could have existed if we had not seen its fossil.
Javier Luque, paleontologist at the University of Alberta
The species discovered by Javier Luque looks like an amalgam of several different species: it has the globular eyes of a larva, the mouth of a shrimp, the claws of a crab and the shell of a lobster.
“His eyes were huge,” he says. “Her front legs, instead of being trained to walk, were huge and flat, like paddles she would have used for swimming. All these features really left us puzzled.”
This discovery took place in 2005. It has followed more than a decade of research, to determine the place of this unusual fossil in the chain of evolution of crabs, before this revelation is finally made public.
“We knew it was a crab, but we did not know at all which species it was. The detective job […] took a lot of time, “said Javier Luque.
He estimates that this species dates from mid-Cretaceous and that it inhabited coastal areas between 90 and 95 million years ago.
The tropics zone
Christopher Cameron, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Montreal, believes these fossils are an important milestone, not just because it is a new species.
“I think one of the most important repercussions of this discovery is that it indicates that the equatorial regions will be the place where there will be the most fossils unearthed in the next century.”
While most fossils have so far been discovered in Europe or North America, this will not be the case in the future, believes Christopher Cameron. He expects the equatorial regions to become the playground of choice for fossil researchers.
As for Javier Luque, he hopes that this discovery will give new impetus to palaeontology in the tropics.
“It’s really a good time to be a paleontologist, the 21st century,” he enthuses. There is so much to discover, so we have a lot of work to do. ”