Earth's first big predatory monster was a weird water bug as big as Tom Cruise, newly found fossils show. Almost half a billion years ago, way before the dinosaurs roamed, Earth's dominant large predator was a sea scorpion that grew to 5 feet 7 inches, with a dozen claw arms sprouting from its head and a spiked tail, according to a new study. Scientists found signs of these new monsters of the prehistoric deep in Iowa, of all places. Geologists at the Iowa Geological Survey found 150 pieces of fossils about 60 feet under the Upper Iowa River, part of which had to be temporarily dammed to allow them to collect the specimens. Then, scientists at Yale University determined they were a new species from about 460 million years ago, when Iowa was under an ocean.
"This is the first real big predator," says James Lamsdell of Yale, lead author of the study published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. "I wouldn't have wanted to be swimming with it. There's something about bugs. When they're a certain size, they shouldn't be allowed to get bigger." Technically, this creature—named Pentecopterus decorahensis, after an ancient Greek warship—is not a bug by science definitions, Lamsdell says, but part of the eurypterid family, which are basically sea scorpions. He says he can tell by the way the many arms come out of the elongated head how this creature grabbed prey and pushed it to its mouth. "It was obviously a very aggressive animal," he says. "It was a big angry bug." (The first flower arrived much later.)