Ma, they call her Luprisca - Earliest known devoted mother was not a Bengali

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  • Published 14.03.14
The fossil of an ostracod, Luprisca incuba, showing limbs and eggs from 450 million years ago Credit: D Siveter and colleagues

New Delhi, March 13: Long before humans, kangaroos or dinosaurs, there was mother’s love — and she wasn’t a doting Bengali mom but a tiny shrimp-like creature.

Scientists today announced their discovery of the earliest evidence for parental care in the fossils of small shrimp-like creatures that lived about 450 million years ago in a period that geologists call the Ordovician era.

The fossils recovered from mudstone rocks in the state of New York in the US suggest that the creatures called ostracods carried their eggs and hatchlings around with them just as their descendants continue to do even today, the scientists have said.

The scientists have named the ostracods Luprisca incuba, after Lucina, the goddess of childbirth in ancient Rome. Babusonas and those who insist that only doting Bengali mothers are capable of delivering the highest levels of maternal care might have wished a different nomenclature.

“The mother kept the eggs and the hatchlings in brooding pouches within her body until the young ones were big enough to go out on their own,” David Siveter, professor of geology at the University of Leceister in the UK who led the study, told The Telegraph.

“This is somewhat similar to what we see in kangaroos, among other animals today,” he said. A research paper by Siveter and his colleagues describing the ostracod fossils was published today in the journal Current Biology.

Ostracods are tiny — about one to two-millimetres in size — crustaceans, the relatives of shrimps and crabs, and thousands of species of ostracods are found in all types of aquatic environments: rivers, lakes, oceans, even garden ponds.

Although these crustaceans are among the most abundant of fossil arthropods, their fossilised soft parts are exceedingly rare. The newly studied fossils are significant because their soft parts are well preserved.

The fossils suggest that ostracods carried eggs and hatchlings before releasing them into the water. “This tells us that this type of brood care has been around for 450 million years,” Derek Briggs, professor of geology at Yale University and team member, said.

Scientists say the fossils provide a snapshot of biology of creatures from an ancient era which remain ubiquitous.

“Brood pouches have been reported earlier, but this seems to be the earliest evidence of parental care in a group of creatures that exist even today,” said Ashu Khosla, a palaeontologist at Panjab University in Chandigarh who was not associated with the new findings but has studied ostracods from a later geological period called the Cretaceous era, from about 65 million years ago.