Spider with a tail of 100 million years

Spider-like arachnid with a tail sheds new light on origin of spiders

Scientists say it is not a spider, but a relative that crawled around Southeast Asia, alongside ancient spiders for millions of years.

Numerous animals and plants have been found beautifully preserved inside amber, which is fossilized tree resin.

The hairy tail, which measures about 2 millimetres, would have been used to help the spider sense its environment.

These early arachnids, scientifically classified as Chimerarachne yingi, contain the spinneret organs that modern spiders use to create their spectacular, varied, and complex aerial webs.

Thanks to Mother Nature's great freeze-frame device known as amber, scientists have just discovered a remarkable new species of arachnid from 100 million years ago.

It's this peculiar feature that led the researchers to suspect that C. yingi belongs to a long-extinct arachnid order, known as the Uraraneida, which are differentiated by their tail-like appendage called a telson. This week, two independent teams describe four 100-million-year-old specimens encased in amber that look like a cross between a spider and a scorpion.

Among the four fossils, two of them were examined by Gonzalo Giribet at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Diying Huang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing and their colleagues. This means that the Chimerarachne Yingi spiders lived alongside large herbivores like the Iguanodon and hadrosaurs, and even larger predators like the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The unusual creature shares certain characteristics with modern spiders - including fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing organs at its rear - however, it also has a long tail, or flagellum - a feature that living spiders lack.




Amber mined for centuries in Myanmar for jewelry is a treasure trove for understanding the evolution of spiders and their other arachnid relatives. But experts disagree about how these fossils relate to modern-day spiders, because there's something unusual about their crumpled corpses: all four of them have tails. The two groups say they didn't know about each other until after they submitted their results to the same journal. "Egg-wrapping is a vital function for spider silk, as well as laying a trail to find its way back home".

Selden said this discovery isn't the end of the ancient spider.

The specimens are all tiny - about 2.5 millimeters in body length - excluding the almost 3 millimeter-long tail. "These all evolved before spiders made it up into the air and made insect traps".

They do believe, however, it's likely the fossilised spiders' ancestors are still living in parts of the southeast Asian rainforest.

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

"We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks", he said.

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.

"We haven't found them", he says in the University of Kansas statement, "but some of these forests aren't that well-studied, and it's only a tiny creature".

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