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

It's like a real-life Jurassic Park movie.  

An extraordinary new species of arachnid, resembling a spider with a tail, has been discovered suspended in amber, a pair of new studies reported Monday.

The creature, which had fangs and eight legs, lived some 100 million years ago. Similar to scorpions today, the bug also had a whip-like tail, unlike modern spiders.

The "proto-spider" was discovered in Myanmar (formerly Burma). 

"There's been a lot of amber being produced from northern Myanmar and its interest stepped up about 10 years ago when it was discovered this amber was mid-Cretaceous," said Paul Selden of the University of Kansas, a co-author of one of the studies. "Therefore, all the insects found in it were much older than first thought."

The amber has often traveled to China, where dealers have been selling to research institutions. These specimens became available last year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, he added.

The creatures were tiny, with a body length of about two-tenths of an inch, including the tail. The new animal resembles a spider with its fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing spinnerets at the rear. However, it also has a long tail. No living spider has a tail. 

The new species has been given the scientific name Chimerachne yingi, which translates to "chimaera spider." This comes from the Greek mythological Chimera, a hybrid creature composed of parts of more than one animal.

As for what the bugs' lives were like, scientists can only guess. “We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks,” Selden said. “Amber is fossilized resin, so for a spider to have become trapped, it may well have lived under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree.”

Due to the combination of ancient and modern features, the two papers disagree on where the animal should sit in the evolutionary tree: One study places it within an order of extinct spider relatives while the other concludes it could be one of the first true spiders.

More samples of the animal will need to be obtained before scientists can agree on where it fits.

There's even a small chance the tiny animal could have some descendants alive somewhere in the rainforests of southeast Asia. 

The studies appeared Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

© 2018 USATODAY.COM


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