Published: Wed, February 07, 2018
Research | By Clarence Powell

It is possible to make spiders creepier, ancient fossils in amber show

It is possible to make spiders creepier, ancient fossils in amber show

What has eight legs, fangs and a whip-like tail? We do know that the arachnid ancestor probably had a tail, and living groups like whip scorpions also have a whip-like tail.

Named Chimerarachne yingi after the Chimera of Greek mythology-a lion, goat and serpent hybrid-the creature will help scientists understand the origin of these much-feared critters. Spiders use silk for a variety of reasons, including augmenting their living space and protecting their eggs.

Measuring just 2.5 millimeters, C. yingi would have been smaller than its tail, which stretched to about 3 millimeters. And it's visible in one of the oldest fossils from a close spider relative, Attercopus fimbriunguis, which dates back 380 million years. But he added that the classification of whether C. yingi was more closely related to uraraneids or to modern spiders isn't yet resolved. The 100-million-year-old spider-like creature may actually belong to its own branch of the evolutionary tree, positioned between spiders and uraraneids.

The extraordinary finding is described in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an global team of boffins in the Hukawng Valley, Myanmar.

"Spiders have soft bodies and no bones, so they don't fossilise very well, so we rely on special conditions - especially amber - to find them", Wang explained. It also shows that the tailed spiders originated in the Palaeozoic and they survived in the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia.

Its emergence has a new species comes courtesy of studies of prehistoric amber samples from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and studied by an global team, including experts from the United Kingdom.

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Fossil hunters found the extraordinary creatures suspended in lumps of amber that formed 100m years ago in what is now Myanmar. Selden says the spider's remote habitat allows for the possibility that tailed descendants may still be alive in Myanmar's backcountry today.

Researchers have discovered a remarkable ancient arachnid species, resembling a spider with a tail, preserved in a 100-million-year-old amber found in Myanmar.

"The ones we recognized previously were different in that they had a tail but don't have the spinnerets", says Selden. It has "spinnerets" located at its read end through which it once produced silk.

Its whip-like tail or flagellum, also known as a telson, likely "served a sensory goal", Wang told AFP. That makes them surprisingly young, Professor Selden said. 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.

What makes the fossils so unusual, according to the two teams the leading studies, is that they possess both a tail-like appendage similar to those of other ancient arachnids and multi-segment silk-spinning organs only seen in more modern spiders.

Besides having a flagellum or tail - believed to have been used by the invertebrate as a sensory organ - Chimerarachne stands out from much older arachnids of 300 million years ago in having silk-producing spinnerets.

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