Sci-tech

Why This Ancient Spider Had A Tail

Why This Ancient Spider Had A Tail

If you're not a fan of spiders, this is one fossil sure to give you the creeps.

Around 100 million years ago, oozing tree sap poured over hundreds of tiny spiders, killing and preserving the critters in hardened amber.

He noted that the tail was used to sense the environment but at some point during the evolutionary process, they lost the it. With a name drawing inspiration from a mythological hybrid animal, Chimerarachne yingi is a kind of proto-spider, linking primitive crawlers to the eight-legged creatures of today.

But Paul Selden, a palaeontologist at the University of Kansas who contributed to the study, says this tail wasn't as sinister as it sounds. One of the research teams believes that C. yingi belongs to the Uraraneida group, an extinct spider relative that had tails. According to the researchers, it is even possible that some of this species queens are still present in the Myanmar forests.

Bottom right: The entire specimen in dorsal ventral view. A pair of papers out today detail how this 100-million-year-old discovery, preserved in amber, fits into the spider evolution story...and the ways it doesn't. But experts disagree about how these fossils relate to modern-day spiders, because there's something odd about their crumpled corpses: all four of them have tails.

That would mean that the tailed spider lived for about 200 million years side-by-side with spiders, Garwood, said.

The specimens were not discovered by the researchers in situ in Myanmar, but instead were collected by dealers and sold to Chinese researchers. Co-author Bo Wang says the tails could have evolved into obscurity when the creatures switched from roaming around to look for food to becoming sit-and-wait predators. There are no tailed spiders today, and arachnids wouldn't need sensory flagellum because they can feel vibrations in their webs. "It all depends on where we decide to draw the line", Selden said.

"Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna", he said in a University of Kansas media statement.

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These are tiny arachnids, measured about 2.5 millimeters body length, excluding the almost 3-millimeter-long tail.

Other species of insects, including millipedes and modern spiders, were also found alongside the four chimaera fossils.

An abstract of the study says the "new fossil most likely represents the earliest branch of the Araneae, and implies that there was a lineage of tailed spiders that presumably originated in the Palaeozoic and survived at least into the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia".

"Amber is fossilised resin, so for a spider to have become trapped, it may well have lived under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree".

For starters, in addition to fairly standard spider traits such as fangs and multi-segmented spinnerets that produce silk, there's that tail.

Although this particular fossil was from the mid-Cretaceous age (around 100 million years ago) the team think the animal could still be alive today.

They look like these older creatures so it's rather a surprise to see them alongside spiders, he said of the insects found alongside the fossils.


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