Spiders Had Tails 100 Million Years Ago, Fossil Shows

Feb 07, 2018, 01:28
Spiders Had Tails 100 Million Years Ago, Fossil Shows

Around 100 million years ago, oozing tree sap poured over hundreds of tiny spiders, killing and preserving the critters in hardened amber. In the last few years, we've seen some incredible finds inside amber, including a tick in the middle of a meal, an otherworldly insect, a bug that's jumped out of its skin, mammalian red blood cells, and a dinosaur tail complete with feathers.

Scientists have identified many spiders from this lineage in the same amber deposit from the Cretaceous period.

They look similar to modern-day spiders, and have fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing spinnerets.

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"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. Chimerarachne shared a common ancestor with the true spiders and resembles a member of the most primitive group of modern living spiders, the mesotheles, which are found today only in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. These spiders have a segmented abdomen unlike other groups found today, such as the mygalomorphs, which include well known spider species like tarantulas and funnel-webs.

But from the point of view of Gonzalo Giridet's team at Harvard University, who conducted the other study, Chimerarachne yingi would be a Uraraneida itself and would have gotten extinct without leaving descendants. Their numbers suggest that even 100 million years ago, chimerachne was already a "living fossil" - a species that resembles creatures otherwise known only from the fossil record, Selden said.

Amber, often used in jewellery, is fossilised tree resin, the oldest dating back more than 300 million years. "These specimens became available past year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology".

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"Silk-spinning spiders with and without tails co-existed for millennia, the authors agree".

Explaining the tail, Selden says: "Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna". The ancient arachnids are usually described as "chimeras" which is the name of a hybrid beast popular in Greek mythology.

"Taken together, Chimerarachne has a unique body plan among the arachnids and raises important questions about what an early spider looked like, and how the spinnerets and pedipalp organ may have evolved". He thought the presence of spinnerets pulled it to the side of spiders. The scientists suspect that the spiders might have lived with the tailed spiders of arachnids side by side for about 200 million years side-by-side. Vinegaroons, or "whip scorpions", are close living relatives of spiders that sport tails, and the same research team has previously discovered older arachnids with tails but no spinnerets. 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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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.