Spider with a tail discovered in 100m-year-old amber

Spider with a tail discovered in 100m-year-old amber

Kenneth Drake
February 7, 2018

The latest study is also based on a well preserved and intact spider cousin fossil that lived nearly 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. Amber is fossilized tree resin and is known for perfectly preserving many ancient fossils of insects and plants.

Amber mined for centuries in Myanmar for jewelry is a treasure trove for understanding the evolution of spiders and their other arachnid relatives.

The common traits of spiders are well known to everyone - they have eight legs, multiple eyes and can spin webs - but a recent fossil discovery and new research now shows that spiders once had long "whip-like" tails.

The tail could have allowed for environmental detection, according to Paul Selden, of the Institute of Paleontology and the Department of Geology of the University of Kansas, co-author of one of the studies. "Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes". That positions the 100-million-year-old spider, now named Chimerarachne, as a sort of stepping stone between those early arachnids and modern spiders. Numerous other often-spectacular Cretaceous amber finds coming out of Southeast Asia these days (see, for example, the tick preserved clinging to a dinosaur feather or 2016's entire feathered dinosaur tail) have taken a similar route to scientific notice.

Those with arachnophobia might want to look away now, as scientists have unearthed an incredible 100m-year-old spider that actually had a tail.

And what is even more fantastic, says Bond, is that the amber is only 100 million years old.

The creature, which has been named Chimerarachne yingi, boasts a unusual mix of features that we see on modern-day arachnids. "These specimens became available a year ago to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology".

Tailed spider
An illustration of Chimerarachne yingi

While no living spider species has a tail, the feature isn't unheard of in the arachnid world.

The fossils, described today in two different studies in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, look like spiders. What is interesting about the preserved remains of ancient "proto-spiders" is that they had tails which were longer than their whole bodies.

Scientists found the creature trapped in a piece of amber from the mid-Cretaceous period, and now believe that it's an entirely new species.

"When you find the missing link, you just create two new gaps where previously, there was one". Scientists have traditionally used silk spinnerets to distinguish true spiders from other species.

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". It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

It isn't clear if the arachnid used its spinnerets to weave webs, since arachnids also rely on their spinnerets to wrap eggs, to make sleeping hammocks, and to leave trails that help them find their way back to their burrows.

A dorsal view of an entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen.

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