Ancient arachnid: 100-million-year-old spider found trapped in amber

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Researchers from the United States, China, Germany and Britain, who made two related publications in Nature Ecology & Evolution, discovered a total of four samples and named the Chimerarachne yingi (C. yingi), combining the word spider with the Chimera of Greek mythology.

"We have known for a decade or so that spiders evolved from arachnids that had tails, more than 315 million years ago", Russell Garwood of The University of Manchester, a co-researcher on the study, told the BBC. Their body length is around 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inches) and their tail size is 3 millimeters (0.2 inches) which is longer than the body.

The Cretaceous-era critter has been dubbed Chimerarachne yingi, borrowing its name from the Chimera, a mythological creature composed of the parts of several different animals. Given it was encased in amber, Chimerarachne must have lived on or around tree trunks, and like its modern counterparts it most likely would have fed on insects. They're also all male, which Selden says makes sense based on the behavior of modern spiders: adult male spiders are more likely to be wandering around somewhere they could become trapped in the flowing tree sap that hardened into amber.

Emerging on the Earth more than 380 million years ago, spiders are now present across the globe and are divided into not less than 47,000 species, according to scientists.

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.

This is then offered for sale to various institutions, with the new species - dating back to the mid-Cretaceous period - coming to light when specimens were made available to the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology. The new animal resembles a spider with its fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing spinnerets at the rear.

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Just for good measure, the newly-discovered species also had fangs - just like today's arachnids - through which it would inject venom into insects it trapped in pincer like claws.

Diying Huang, the researcher behind the second paper, noted that the arachnid had spinnerets but it may not have woven webs like spiders do.

"That's why the new one is really interesting, apart from the fact that it's much younger - it seems to be an intermediate form", researcher Paul Selden said in the Kansas statement. However, they are also equipped with tails which are also common in even older spider relatives called uraraneids. It is estimated that the queue functioned as an antenna for detecting the environment.

The dorsal view of entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen.

Selden said this discovery isn't the end of the ancient spider. But, despite some differences, "they draw the same conclusion-that fossil uraraneids, as this group is called, are the closest extinct relatives of spiders", says Greg Edgecombe, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved with the work.

Up to 100 million years ago, a species of tiny, eight-legged creepy-crawler scuttled across the tropical rainforest of present-day Myanmar. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

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