Evolution and systematics

The subclass Merostomata is one of three branches of the chelicerate line of arthropods; the other two branches include sea spiders and terrestrial spiders. Thus horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to other crabs. Horseshoe crabs date to the Carboniferous period (350 million years ago [mya]). Ancestral relatives from the Cambrian period (550 mya) have been found. Horseshoe crabs are classified into a single order (Xiphosura) and family (Limul-idae). Four species are recognized. Many scientists now categorize Merostomata as a class rather than a subclass.

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