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Ancient spiders, preserved in amber

Ancient spiders, preserved in amber

Mesothelae spiders are only found in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia today.

Scientists say it's possible that the creatures are still scuttling through the forests of Myanmar, where the specimen was discovered. The new animal resembles a spider with its fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing spinnerets at the rear. Co-author of the study, Russell Garwood of The University of Manchester, said that they had known for decades that spiders evolved from arachnids that had tails, more than 315 million years ago.

If you already thought spiders were terrifying to look at, wait till you hear about a newly-discovered species of arachnid that had a long tail (as well as eight legs). A new, freakish spider-like creature has just been discovered in Southeast Asia, having been encased in amber during the Cretaceous period some 100 million years ago, and it might be more terrifying than any of the creepy-crawlies lurking in the dark corners of your basement.

"Chimerarachne fills the gap between Palaeozoic arachnids with tails known from rocks (uraraneids) and true spiders, and the fact the new fossils have been wonderfully preserved in Burmese amber has allowed an unmatched detail of study", he said. They had a quite different feature than modern spiders. These specimens became available previous year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, he added. However, the researchers are taking their time in actually classifying this new creature because they want to be absolutely sure that it either belongs in an existing category or is the first example of an entirely new branch.

A report from seven scholars tells us these bugs - a member of the spider and scorpion families - had long, slender structures called flagellums sticking out of their butts.

The finding has been described in a paper appearing in Nature Ecology and Evolution by an global team, including Paul Selden of the Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology at the University of Kansas. "Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes", said Selden.

The new creature has been called Chimerarachne after the Greek mythological Chimera, a hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. For example, if they discover that these ancient creatures made venom, that could place them more firmly in the modern spider lineage. But one of the reasons researchers are so excited about the new discovery is that it appears to be a missing evolutionary link.

It isn't clear if the arachnid used its spinnerets to weave webs, since arachnids also rely on their spinnerets to wrap eggs, to make sleeping hammocks, and to leave trails that help them find their way back to their burrows. But at some stage modern spiders ditched the tail.

A dorsal view of an entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen. By 2008, paleobiologists realized that this ancient silk producer was just a spider relative, perhaps a stepping stone to true 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.

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