The science world has paid homage to Johnny Depp by giving his name to an extinct creepy-crawly with "scissor hand-like" claws reminiscent of one of the Hollywood actor's best-known roles.

Kooteninchela deppi, a 505-million-year-old distant ancestor of lobsters and scorpions, has been named for Depp's famous portrayal of a gentle freak named Edward Scissorhands in the 1990 eponymous film, according to a study in the Journal of Palaeontology.

"When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species, I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands," researcher David Legg of Imperial College London said in a statement on Thursday.

"In truth, I am also a bit of a Depp fan and so what better way to honour the man than to immortalise him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea."

The "chela" in the genus name Kooteninchela given to the recently-discovered fossilised critter is another reference to the film character, as it means "claws" or "scissors" in Latin.

The animal, about four centimetres (1.5 inches) long with millipede-like legs, lived in shallow seas off the coast of British Columbia in Canada during a much hotter period in Earth's history.

It was probably a hunter or scavenger, using its claws with their elongated spines to capture prey or probe the sea floor for creatures in hiding.

"Kooteninchela deppi is helping researchers to piece together more information about life on Earth during the Cambrian period when nearly all modern animal types emerged," said a statement.

The critter belonged to a group known as "great-appendage" arthropods -- early relations of today's arthropods like spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, insects and crabs.

"Just imagine it: the prawns covered in mayonnaise in your sandwich, the spider climbing up your wall and even the fly that has been banging into your window... are all descendants of Kooteninchela deppi,"" said Legg.