Spider-like arachnid with a tail sheds new light on origin of spiders

07 February, 2018, 01:29 | Author: Yolanda Murray
  • Artist's impression of Chimerarachne yingi

And it's visible in one of the oldest fossils from a close spider relative, Attercopus fimbriunguis, which dates back 380 million years.

If more specimens emerge, Selden and others hope to find out more about the spider's anatomy, behavior and whether it has a female counterpart. At the origins of the identification of this new spider species are four primitive spider fossils, captured in amber 100 million years ago on the territory of actual Myanmar.

"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.

"Maybe the tail originally had a sensory function; it is covered in short hairs, but when spiders changed to lifestyle like being sit-and-wait predators, the tail was no longer really needed and became lost", Bo Wang was quoted by The Guardian. That positions the 100-million-year-old spider, now named Chimerarachne, as a sort of stepping stone between those early arachnids and modern spiders. Comparison with fossils subsequently unearthed showed that this newly classified branch of arachnids differed from spiders - the Araneae - in several structural ways, notably in the positioning of silk-producing spigots, and a tail-like appendage, known as a telson, at the end of the abdomen.

Chimerarachne yingi fossil
Chimerarachne yingi fossil

The creature, which had fangs and eight legs, lived some 100 million years ago.

And what is even more incredible, says Bond, is that the amber is only 100 million years old.

It belongs to a group of arachnids (spiders, scorpions and the like) that were related to true spiders.

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. Both researchers looked at the perfectly preserved animals and came to the same conclusion: This was an entirely new kind of animal.

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Although the spiders that commonly dangle in our homes and gardens have no tails, that doesn't necessarily mean that their tailed evolutionary cousins are, in fact, extinct.

The extraordinary finding is described in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an worldwide team which included earth scientist Dr Russell Garwood of Manchester University. No living spider has a tail.

The new creature has been called Chimerarachne after the Greek mythological Chimera, a hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal.

He said: "Chimerarachne could be considered as a spider". This mix of features gave the spiders their name: a reference to a mythical creature with a lion's head and serpent-like tail.

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This exciting new find confirms a prediction made a few years ago by Selden and colleagues when they described a similar tailed arachnid, which resembled a spider but lacked spinnerets.

The dorsal view of the spider encased in amber. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

"And now suddenly we have another group that is not a spider that also has those characteristics", Giribet said.

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