April 21, 2018

Found: 100-Million-Year Old Arachnid with a Tail Encased in Amber

07 February 2018, 12:51 | Camille Rivera

Spider with a whippy tail found in preserved amber

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

Two arachnids 100 million years old have been found exquisitely preserved in amber in Myanmar, shedding light on the evolution of spiders. Amber is nature's time capsule, providing a glimpse of whatever plants or animals became trapped in resin before it fossilized. Their numbers suggest that even 100 million years ago, chimerachne was already a "living fossil" - a species that resembles creatures otherwise known only from the fossil record, Selden said.

The experts have named the newly discovered species Chimerarachne yingi, with the genus name coming from the fire-breathing chimera in Greek mythology that had the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

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. Today's eight-legged spiders bear many similarities with the arachnids.

This is a dorsal view of entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen.

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. The creature likely lived for about 200 million years side-by-side with "true" spiders. With its curious mix of ancient and modern traits - a long, skinny tail inherited from a distant arachnid ancestor, but a silk-producing organ like those found in spiders today - the tiny chimerarachne, or "chimera spider", is not a member of the immediate family.

From what they can see, it looks like a spider with a tail from another creature attached to it.

And in fact there's nothing to say that they're still not living there today for what we know because the region is not a well-studied area. "Egg-wrapping is a vital function for spider silk, as well as laying a trail to find its way back home".

Commenting on the research, Dr Ricardo Perez-De-La Fuente, of the Oxford Museum of Natural History, said the "amazing fossils" will be important in deciphering the puzzle of the evolution of spiders and allied groups.

"Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna", Selden said in a KU News Service report. "Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes". "I$3 t is covered in short hairs, but when spiders changed to lifestyles like being sit-and-wait predators, the tail was no longer really needed and became lost".

Before getting too comfortable, arachnophobes should note there's a chance that tail-sporting descendants of Chimerarachne could still be alive in the jungles of Southeast Asia today, according to the researchers. Just this month, a 99-million-year-old bird was found in a cloudy slab of Burmese amber, and other specimens including dinosaur tails, ticks, other bird parts, and more ancient spiders have also been discovered.

Professor Selden believes Chimerarachne represents "a kind of missing link" between true spiders and earlier spider forerunners that had tails but lacked spinnerets. The scientists think it lived on or around tree trunks, perhaps under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree.

Prof Selden said: "There's been a lot of amber being produced from northern Myanmar and its interest stepped up about 10 years ago when it was discovered this amber was mid-Cretaceous".

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