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Very creepy crawlies: 'proto-spiders' with long tails discovered in amber

Very creepy crawlies: 'proto-spiders' with long tails discovered in amber

Very creepy crawlies: 'proto-spiders' with long tails discovered in amber

The discovery closes a gap in the fossil record of 170 million years, the researchers report. Mesothelae spiders are only found in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia today.

Its emergence has a new species comes courtesy of studies of prehistoric amber samples from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and studied by an global team, including experts from the United Kingdom.

The unusual creature shares certain characteristics with modern spiders - including fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing organs at its rear - however, it also has a long tail, or flagellum - a feature that living spiders lack. But the presence of the whip-like tail - longer than the creatures' themselves - was a bit too much for Selden and his team to bundle into the arachnid family.

Scientists have discovered a spider from 100 million years ago that had a tail, making it a potent nightmare fuel when its fangs and webbing are added to the mix.

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.

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.

Top right: Illustration of a remarkable arachnid from the mid-Cretaceous (approximately 100 million years ago) Burmese amber of Myanmar, which documents a key transition stage in spider evolution.

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However, the 100 million-year-old spider fossils could change some of the theories regarding the evolution of the spiders. No modern spider has a similar feature.

"In the last few years, this kind of amber has become much more available and because of its age - it's a hundred million years old or older - it lets us see really far back into the past", he said. 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.

Each spider's body was about 3mm long, while the tail measured up to 5mm.

The extraordinary finding is described in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an worldwide team which included earth scientist Dr Russell Garwood of Manchester University.

As a result, the species has been named Chimerarachne in reference to the Chimera - a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology which was composed of limbs from various animals.

Like a Griffin or a Jackalope, the spider looks like it had a tail from another creature attached to it. But it's hard to know what the chimera spider's daily life was like. However, they are also equipped with tails which are also common in even older spider relatives called uraraneids.

Prof Selden said: "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". It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

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