Sci-tech

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

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

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.

The C. yingi fossils were uncovered by amber miners in northern Burma, sold to dealers, then purchased by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The ones we recognized previously were different in that they had a tail but don't have the spinnerets", says Selden.

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

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

100 million years ago, spider-like critters had fancy long tails to go with their fangs and spinnerets. No living spider has a tail, although some relatives of spiders, the vinegaroons, do have an anal flagellum. Researchers think C. yingi used its appendage to sense its environment.

Because the C. yingi specimens were found trapped in amber, the researchers believe the arachnid lived near tree trunks, possibly under bark or in the moss near the foot of a tree.

This handout image shows a photo of the holotype of the dorsal view of a Chimerachne yingi spider. At 0.1 inches (3 millimeters), the tail was slightly longer than the spider's 0.07-inch (2 mm) body.

The spider has been christened Chimerarachne after the mythological Chimera - a hybrid beast composed of the parts of several animals.

Fossil hunters found the extraordinary creatures suspended in lumps of amber that formed 100m years ago in what is now Myanmar.

Its whip-like tail or flagellum, also known as a telson, likely "served a sensory objective", Wang told AFP. Although its spinnerets indicate it could produce silk, the scientists don't think it was building elaborate webs for catching prey. The other thinks the arachnid may have been an early branch of modern spiders-"a kind of missing link" between the uraraneids and the spiders we know today, Selden tells Ian Sample of the Guardian.

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.

Selden said: "We don't know if it wove webs".

"Take the front of a spider, the end of a vinegarroon and then you put spinnerets on it and that's our fossil", said Gonzalo Giribet, an invertebrate biologist from Harvard University and an author on one of the papers. The researchers write that "there must have been a continuum of character reduction and character acquisition" along the line of evolutionary development that led to modern spiders. 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. "We haven't found them, but some of these forests aren't that well-studied, and it's only a tiny creature", said Selden.


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