Articles | Volume 20, issue 2
Review article
09 Aug 2017
Review article |  | 09 Aug 2017

The fossil history of pseudoscorpions (Arachnida: Pseudoscorpiones)

Danilo Harms and Jason A. Dunlop

Abstract. Pseudoscorpions, given their resemblance to scorpions, have attracted human attention since the time of Aristotle, although they are much smaller and lack the sting and elongated tail. These arachnids have a long evolutionary history but their origins and phylogenetic affinities are still being debated. Here, we summarise their fossil record based on a comprehensive review of the literature and data contained in other sources. Pseudoscorpions are one of the oldest colonisers of the land, with fossils known since the Middle Devonian (ca. 390 Ma). The only arachnid orders with an older fossil record are scorpions, harvestmen and acariform mites, plus two extinct groups. Pseudoscorpions do not fossilise easily, and records from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic consist almost exclusively of amber inclusions. Most Mesozoic fossils come from Archingeay and Burmese ambers (Late Cretaceous) and those from the Cenozoic are primarily from Eocene Baltic amber, although additional fossils from, for example, Miocene Dominican and Mexican ambers, are known. Overall, 16 of the 26 families of living pseudoscorpions have been documented from fossils and 49 currently valid species are recognised in the literature. Pseudoscorpions represent a case of morphological stasis and even the Devonian fossils look rather modern. Indeed, most amber fossils are comparable to Recent groups despite a major gap in the fossil record of almost 250 Myr. Baltic amber inclusions indicate palaeofauna inhabiting much warmer climates than today and point to climatic shifts in central Europe since the Eocene. They also indicate that some groups (e.g. Feaellidae and Pseudogarypidae) had much wider Eocene distributions. Their present-day occurrence is relictual and highlights past extinction events. Faunas from younger tropical amber deposits (e.g. Dominican and Mexican amber) are comparable to Recent ones. Generally, there is a strong bias in the amber record towards groups that live under tree bark, whereas those from litter habitats are underrepresented. We also discuss challenges in interpreting fossils: their cryptic morphology warranting novel techniques of morphological reconstruction, the massive gap in the fossil record between the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic, and problems with the classification of (historically) old amber material. Finally, we discuss aspects of the palaeoecology and biology of the fossils compared with the Recent fauna, such as phoresy.

Short summary
We review the fossil history of pseudoscorpions (Arachnida: Pseudoscorpiones), one of the oldest terrestrial lineages with a fossil record that goes back to the Devonian. Pseudoscorpions do not fossilise easily, and records from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic consist almost exclusively of amber inclusions. Overall, 16 of the 26 recent families have been documented from fossils. This is a group of evolutionary stasis and we discuss aspects of palaeobiology, preservation, and ecology.