Researchers Discover 100-Million-Year-Old Spider with Tail 'Frozen' in Amber

Researchers Discover 100-Million-Year-Old Spider with Tail 'Frozen' in Amber

Even though these fossils are millions of years old, scientists say that it's possible that tailed descendants of the spiders are still alive in the backcountry of Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

Then, several years ago, amber fossil dealers independently approached two paleobiologists at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology in China with what looked like 5-millimeter-long Uraraneida encased in amber.

"Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna", he said in a University of Kansas media statement.

Selden speculates the itsy-bitsy spiders likely lived around trees, which explains how they got caught up in the fossilized tree resin.

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The unusual combination of features gave the new species its name: Chimerarachne yingi, for the hybrid creatures called chimeras in Greek mythology.

Top right: Illustration of a remarkable arachnid from the mid-Cretaceous (approximately 100 million years ago) Burmese amber of Myanmar, which documents a key transition stage in spider evolution. The scientists believe that the tail "swished from side to side" while the creature moved in order to sense predators or prey.

In a paper published to Nature Ecology & Evolution, the global research team revealed that it found four new specimens of the species, each of which measures just 2.5mm in body length, while the tail adds an extra 3mm.

With a total body length of about six millimetres (one fifth of an inch) - half taken up by the tail - C. yingi is, truly, an itsy bitsy spider. But it's hard to know what the chimera spider's daily life was like.

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Research papers detailing the discovery, which were published in Nature, are clear about one thing: C. yingi isn't a spider, but it's also not far off. Arachnids have a twisted history, and paleontologists know that some of the closest ancient relatives to spiders didn't survive through to the modern day.

Fossil hunters found the extraordinary creatures suspended in lumps of amber that formed 100m years ago in what is now Myanmar. "These specimens became available past year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology".

Paul Selden, a palaeontologist who worked on the specimen at the University of Kansas told The Guardian that they were "a kind of missing link" between the two species - the uraraneids and primitive living spiders.

Apart from legs, front claws, and spinnerets organs (appendices used to make silk threads and spiderwebs), this very old spiders also had a short-haired tail similar to the tail of the Scorpions. There's that one feature you've probably noticed already that you might not expect to find at all in a spider: a long, segmented, whip-like tail that resembles the telson found in scorpions. "It all depends on where we decide to draw the line", Selden said. And, though it was capable of using its spinnerets to produce silk, it was unlikely to have woven webs. 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.

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