It has been proposed that the Ediacaran animals Parvancorina and Spriggina, from around 555 Mya, were arthropods. Small arthropods with bivalve-like shells have been found in Early Cambrian fossil beds dating 541 to 539 million years ago in China. The earliest Cambrian trilobite fossils are about 530 million years old, but the class was already quite diverse and worldwide, suggesting that they had been around for quite some time. Re-examination in the 1970s of the Burgess Shale fossils from about 505 million years ago identified many arthropods, some of which could not be assigned to any of the well-known groups, and thus intensified the debate about the Cambrian explosion. A fossil of Marrella from the Burgess Shale has provided the earliest clear evidence of molting.
The earliest fossil crustaceans date from about 513 million years ago in the Cambrian, and fossil shrimp from about 500 million years ago apparently formed a tight-knit procession across the seabed. Crustacean fossils are common from the Ordovician period onwards. They have remained almost entirely aquatic, possibly because they never developed excretory systems that conserve water.
Arthropods provide the earliest identifiable fossils of land animals, from about 419 million years ago in the Late Silurian, and terrestrial tracks from about 450 million years ago appear to have been made by arthropods. Arthropods were well pre-adapted to colonize land, because their existing jointed exoskeletons provided protection against desiccation, support against gravity and a means of locomotion that was not dependent on water. Around the same time the aquatic, scorpion-like eurypterids became the largest ever arthropods, some as long as 2.5 metres (8.2 ft).
The oldest known arachnid is the trigonotarbid Palaeotarbus jerami, from about 420 million years ago in the Silurian period.[Note 2] Attercopus fimbriunguis, from 386 million years ago in the Devonian period, bears the earliest known silk-producing spigots, but its lack of spinnerets means it was not one of the true spiders, which first appear in the Late Carboniferous over 299 million years ago. The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods provide a large number of fossil spiders, including representatives of many modern families. Fossils of aquatic scorpions with gills appear in the Silurian and Devonian periods, and the earliest fossil of an air-breathing scorpion with book lungs dates from the Early Carboniferous period.
The oldest definitive insect fossil is the Devonian Rhyniognatha hirsti, dated at 396 to 407 million years ago, but its mandibles are of a type found only in winged insects, which suggests that the earliest insects appeared in the Silurian period. The Mazon Creek lagerstätten from the Late Carboniferous, about 300 million years ago, include about 200 species, some gigantic by modern standards, and indicate that insects had occupied their main modern ecological niches as herbivores, detritivores and insectivores. Social termites and ants first appear in the Early Cretaceous, and advanced social bees have been found in Late Cretaceous rocks but did not become abundant until the Mid Cenozoic.
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