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Bizarre 'chimera' fossil reveals platypus of the crab world

Meet the oldest known swimming crab from the dinosaur era. It's totally weird.

- 01:18

Callichimaera perplexa is one oddball crab critter.

Daniel Ocampo R./Vencejo Films

When someone names a creature "Callichimaera perplexa," you know it's got to be cool as hell. 

Callichimaera perplexa is a crab that lived 90 million to 95 million years ago during the dinosaur era, but it's not like today's crabs that you might spot crawling around the ocean floor (or sitting on a dinner plate). Paleontologist Javier Luque from the University of Alberta and Yale University likened the crustaceans to platypuses, the famous egg-laying, duck-billed mammal.

"We started looking at these fossils and we found they had what looked like the eyes of a larva, the mouth of a shrimp, claws of a frog crab, and the carapace of a lobster," said Luque, the lead author of a study published in Science Advances.

Callichimaera means "beautiful chimera." It's a call-out to the chimera of Greek mythology, a beast made up of parts of a lion, goat and snake. 

Scientists discovered over 70 fossil specimens of the crab in the Andes Mountains in Colombia, an area that was a shallow sea during the Cretaceous Period. The anatomical details point to a swimming-based lifestyle, unlike the crawling crabs of today. 

The researchers generated a 3D model of the ancient crab.

Javier Luque, et al

The fossils are so well preserved, the researchers were able to make a 3D model that can be printed out. 

"This discovery, from the mid-Cretaceous, illustrates that there are still surprising discoveries of more recent, weird organisms waiting to be found, especially in the tropics," said Luque.

Unlike the mythical chimera, the water-dwelling Callichimaera perplexa didn't breathe fire.