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Ancient arachnid: 100-million-year-old spider found trapped in amber

07 February 2018

"Our new fossil most likely represents the earliest branch of spiders, and implies that there was a lineage of tailed spiders that presumably originated in the Paleozoic (the geological era that ended 251 million years ago) and survived at least into the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia", Wang added. In the last few years, we've seen some incredible finds inside amber, including a tick in the middle of a meal, an otherworldly insect, a bug that's jumped out of its skin, mammalian red blood cells, and a dinosaur tail complete with feathers.

The specimens were not discovered by the researchers in situ in Myanmar, but instead were collected by dealers and sold to Chinese researchers. Male spiders have also evolved another modified "leg" between their fangs and the back four pairs of legs that inserts sperm into the female.

"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.

Despite its fearsome appearance, the fanged Chimerarachne was only about three-tenths of an inch (7.5 mm) long, more than half of which was its tail. Similar to scorpions today, the bug also had a whip-like tail, unlike modern spiders. All but the most primitive spiders have smooth backs, unlike the segmented abdomens of scorpions, which are believed to have diverged from an ancestral arachnid more than 430 million years ago.

Dr. Ricardo Perez-De-La Fuente, of the Oxford Museum of Natural History, said that the incredible fossils will play an important role in deciphering the puzzle of the evolution of spiders and allied groups. (Unlike modern day spiders, uraraneids had plated bellies and silk-spinning organs on the edges of their plates, rather than near their rear end). This latest collection of finds ended up with two different research groups at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology. Both researchers looked at the perfectly preserved animals and came to the same conclusion: This was an entirely new kind of animal.

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The tailed spiders probably used their elongated appendages as a sort of sensing device, said Selden.

The new creature has been called Chimerarachne after the Greek mythological Chimera, a hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal.

This handout image shows a photo of the holotype of the dorsal view of a Chimerachne yingi spider. No living spider has a tail, although some relatives of spiders, the vinegaroons, do have an anal flagellum.

"Suddenly, here was something that formed a missing link between our ancient prototypes and the living spiders", Selden said. This mix of features gave the spiders their name: a reference to a mythical creature with a lion's head and serpent-like tail.

Very much like today's black widows and huntsman spiders, C. yingi had silk-producing spinnerets. 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.

Ancient arachnid: 100-million-year-old spider found trapped in amber