Ancient spiders, preserved in amber

Ancient spiders, preserved in amber

An global team of researchers has been investigating an "extraordinary" 100 million year old fossil of a new species called Chimerarachne yingi found in Myanmar.

If more specimens emerge, Selden and others hope to find out more about the spider's anatomy, behavior and whether it has a female counterpart. The Chimerarachne turned up in Burmese amber, one of the few materials conducive to spider fossils.

In addition to the tail and the fangs, this new spider has male pedipalps, four walking legs, and silk-producing spinnerets at the rear.

"There's been a lot of amber being produced from northern Myanmar and its interest stepped up about ten years ago when it was discovered this amber was mid-Cretaceous; therefore, all the insects found in it were much older than first thought", said co-author Paul Selden, a paleontologist at the University of Kansas. Their body length is around 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inches) and their tail size is 3 millimeters (0.2 inches) which is longer than the body. The previous discovery dated as far back as the Devonian period, some 380 million years ago, while the latest find is only about 100 million years old, from the mid-Cretaceous. A 100-million-year-old arachnid preserved in amber doesn't just have eight legs, but the tail of a scorpion too.

And what is even more wonderful, says Bond, is that the amber is only 100 million years old. "These specimens became available a year ago to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology". Today, scientists announced they belong to an entirely new species.

Although the spiders that commonly dangle in our homes and gardens have no tails, that doesn't necessarily mean that their tailed evolutionary cousins are, in fact, extinct. However, according to Seldon, there is a possibility of descendants of the creepy tailed spiders living in southeast Asian forests even now. The ancient arachnids are described as "chimeras" after the hybrid beast of Greek mythology, because they have a curious mix of primitive and modern body parts.

The finding has been described in a paper appearing in Nature Ecology and Evolution by an global team, including Paul Selden of the Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology at the University of Kansas.

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The ancient creature had a tail, unlike its modern relatives.

An artist's concept drawing shows Chimerarachne.

The researchers documented their findings in two separate papers and hope that their discovery would help in their attempt to decipher the evolution of arachnids.

Amber can give us an unprecedented view into prehistoric life, preserving softer elements that regular fossilization just can't.

The first Uraraneida fossil was discovered in NY state in the U.S. in 1987 and was initially misidentified as a spider.

Professor Selden said: "We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks". Some argue that spinnerets were the key innovation that allowed spiders to become so successful; there are almost 50,000 known spider species alive today.

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