Terrestrial arthropods from the Late Pleistocene of Jamaica: systematics, palaeoecology and taphonomy



The Red Hills Road Cave, Jamaica, is the most important site for terrestrial arthropods in the post-Miocene of the Greater Antilles. Its fauna includes millipedes, isopods, crabs and insects, in addition to land snails and vertebrates. Arthropods are preserved in three dimensions and delicate structures such as limbs can be recognized. This unusual preservation was favoured by acidic groundwater rich in dissolved calcium carbonate; periods of high rainfall during which the bottle-shaped cave was filled with water; and any arthropod washed in would have drowned. The absence of spiders, centipedes and most insects is due to the absence of carbonate in their exoskeletons. Millipedes and isopods possess a potential for preservation by carbonate mineralization that does not occur in other groups; they secrete calcium carbonate in the exoskeleton which hardens the cuticle and is water permeable, bringing about mineral replacement of the original structures.

Within the cave, fossil millipede taxa include Rhinocricus sp. or spp., Chondrotropis sp., Caraibodesmus verrucosus (Pocock) and Cyclodesmus sp. cf. C. porcellanus Pocock. The isopod fauna includes Pseudarmadillo sp., Venezillo boonae Van Name, and Philoscia spp. 1 and 2. Crab claws belong to Sesarma sp. cf. S. cookei Hartnoll. Millipedes and isopods are particularly complete, representing drowned individuals fossilized soon after death; land crabs occur as fingers and rare chelae, suggesting that they may be exuviae. Only the most robust parts of insects have been discovered, but are particularly rare, consisting of three taxa of fly puparia and one possible beetle elytra. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.