Sometimes parents get criticized for literally putting their children on leashes. Turns out that we humans aren’t the first. An ancient anthropod that has crawled the earth some 450 million years ago also tethered its offspring to its body with a string like substance.
Anthropods include insects, millipedes, centipedes, and related animals. The anthropod in question measured just a half inch long, was blind, and appeared to live along ocean floors. In order to stay safe, its children would tether themselves to dear old mom with a long-string like substance. And then they would just sort of float, being dragged behind mom.
Scientists have named the creature Aquilonifer spinosus, which translates to “tiny kite bearer.” The name is a bit of a homage to the Kite Runner book by Khaled Hosseini. No other known anthropod has been found using this particular method of brooding, though some the offspring of some crayfish do tether themselves to the legs of their parents. In this case, the offspring were tethering themselves to the back.
Most likely, the children were then able to collect food while floating in the water above mom or dad. By staying near their parent, the larvae would have been protected from some predators. Once they grew strong enough, they would have simply had to detach.
After finding the fossilized remains of the creature and its babies, scientists had to first determine whether the animals tethered to it were children, parasites, or simply animals hitching a ride. The filament used to for attachment was quite thin, too thin for a parasite. Further, the adult likely would not have tolerated other animals simply catching a ride and creating drag.
Having ruled the first two scenarios out, researchers concluded that the attached creatures must have been babies. The fossil was discovered in a volcanic deposit in the United Kingdom.