The mystery of the Habelia optata

The Habelia optata is an ancient, 508-million year old marine predator. This strange creature was discovered over a century ago and has confused scientists ever since.

The now-extinct animal belongs to the arthropod family, which includes horseshoe crabs and scorpions. It was tiny, only 2 centimeters in length, and had an exoskeleton and jointed limbs. For many years after it was discovered, scientists weren’t sure what sub-group of arthropods the Habelia optata should be in.

However, new research suggests that the Habelia optata should be included in a sub-group known as chelicerates, due to the “chelicerae” located in the front of its mouth. These appendages were used to cut food.

The scientists also suggest that the Habelia optata is the ancestor of other chelicerates living today. If this is true, it could explain other mysteries, such as why horseshoe crabs have a tiny pair of limbs at the back of their heads- they are relics of the fully-formed limbs that the Habelia optata possessed.

Watch this video to learn more about the Habelia optata and the new research being done: