As It Happens

Scientists discover tiny creature that carried babies like 'kites'

A new study reveals an unknown sea animal that kept it's offspring tethered to it's body using kite-like capsules.
The 430 million year old fossil shows that this small animal carried its young in kite-like capsules tethered to the body (D Briggs/D Siveter/D Siveter/M Sutton/D Legg)

Researchers have discovered the fossil of a creature that carried its young in capsules tethered to the mother's body, like a kite.

Those (capsules) are like nothing I've ever seen in anything else- David Legg

David Legg, a  researcher at the University of Oxford Museum of Natural History, published the findings this week tells As It Happens host Carol Off that when he was first brought on the team, he was baffled by what he saw.

"They asked me if I could tell them what it was and I had to say 'well no!'"

This small creature carried its young like tiny, swirling kites. (D Briggs/D Siveter/D Siveter/M Sutton/D Legg)

The specimen has been officially named Aquilonifer spinosus but has earned the nickname 'Kite Runner' because of the capsules attached to its body that look like kites. The creature was an arthropod that was about a centimetre long. The name comes from "aquila," which means eagle or kite, and the suffix "fer," which means carry.

"Those (capsules) are like nothing I've ever seen in anything else, if I'm being honest … Essentially, it's like having a little nursery carried around with it," says Legg.

The fossil shows 10 juveniles attached to the adult, at different stages of development.

David Legg is a palaeontologist from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (

"It's a bit strange to have the young on its back flying in the air," says Legg.

Legg suggests the mother was in conflict because a capsule flying in the air would not be considered a very safe place for the young. But because they were anchored to the body, the mother wanted the children close by.

"A bit like an overprotective mother, but one that likes to take a bit of time off and have a smoke," he jokes.


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