February 21, 2018

Spider with a tail of 100 million years

07 February 2018, 01:31 | Ruben Fields

C. yingi resembles a spider but also bears a long flagellum

C. yingi resembles a spider but also bears a long flagellum

"We have known for a decade or so that spiders evolved from arachnids that had tails, more than 315 million years ago", said Dr Russell Garwood of The University of Manchester, a co-researcher on the study.

Scientists have been able to fix another piece of the jigsaw in arachnid evolution because four Chimerarachne became trapped in forest resin millions of years ago, turning into to semi precious amber.

Paul Brown, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told NPR discoveries like these are becoming more common because Burmese amber is more accessible now than ever before.

The odd creature shares certain characteristics with modern spiders - including fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing organs at its rear - however, it also has a long tail, or flagellum - a feature that living spiders lack. Their torsos are segmented, like those of older arachnid groups, and they have long, whip-like tails, called telsons, that seem to be inherited from a more primitive ancestor.

These animals, from the much older Devonian (about 380m years ago) and Permian (about 290m years ago) periods, formed the basis of a new arachnid order, the Uraraneida, which lies along the line to modern spiders. But experts disagree about how these fossils relate to modern-day spiders, because there's something odd about their crumpled corpses: all four of them have tails.

The tiny creatures were less than 3 millimeters long and crawled around Southeast Asia about 100 million years ago, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"[Today] modern spiders tend to use silk for sensing", he said, per ABC News. "These specimens became available past year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology". Researchers do not entirely agree on how the creepy crawly should be classified, however.

C. yingi preserved in amberUNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
C. yingi preserved in amberUNIVERSITY OF KANSAS

Its tail was longer that its body and was used as a sensory device to seek out prey or escape predators.

The finding is described in a paper appearing in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an worldwide team including Paul Selden of the Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology at the University of Kansas and colleagues from China, Germany, Virginia and the United Kingdom.

Brown said that's what researchers found with the Chimerarachne and it applies to many other species of animals.

The ancient creature had a tail, unlike its modern relatives.

He said: "Chimerarachne could be considered as a spider".

Bottom right: The entire specimen in dorsal ventral view. Fleur reports for the New York Times, the newly discovered arachnid has at least one feature that sets it apart from any living spider: a tail. It has "spinnerets" located at its read end through which it once produced silk. Selden says the spider's remote habitat allows for the possibility that tailed descendants may still be alive in Myanmar's backcountry today.

"All four specimens are adult males, which would have been roving around looking for females at this point in their lives", Selden said. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

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