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Ancient spider with a tail found preserved in amber
07 February 2018, 01:28 | Clyde Nash
The dorsal view of entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen. Note the long tail-like appendage. Credit University of Kansas
Although this 100-million-year-old creature has eight legs, fangs, and could spin silk, it was not a spider, but rather a relative that lived alongside spiders.
Palaeontologists uncovered the critter on the islands of Myanmar - formerly Burma - and believe it lived alongside the T Rex during the Cretaceous period.
The new specimen of spiders is a missing link between the ancient Uraraneida order, which resemble spiders but have tails and no silk-making spinnerets.
But the spider - encased in fossilised tree sap known as amber - also had a long tail.
At 3mm, the tail extends beyond the newly christened Chimerarachne yingi's 2.5mm body and the worldwide scientists behind its discovery say it links today's spiders with those that lived before dinosaurs. 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. Spider fossils go back even further to the Carboniferous, more than 300 million years ago.
However, the 100 million-year-old spider fossils could change some of the theories regarding the evolution of the spiders.
Despite its appearance the team says Chimerarachne is not a direct ancestor of modern day spiders. This latest collection of finds ended up with two different research groups at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology. Today, scientists announced they belong to an entirely new species. But no living spiders have tails.
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The studies appeared Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
In Greek Mythology, the hybrid Chimera is depicted as a lion with a goat's head emerging from its back and with a snake for its tail. The creature fills the gap between ancient arachnids with tails and true spiders, Ricardo Perez-De-La-Fuente of the Oxford Museum of Natural History told the BBC.
"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".
"And now suddenly we have another group that is not a spider that also has those characteristics", Giribet said. An worldwide team of researchers from the United States, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom announced the discovery today (February 5) in two papers in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
But the team describing the holotype of C. yingi places it within the arachnid family tree as an early true spider, citing the presence of both those well developed spinnerets and modified male pedipalps which assist with sperm transfer.
Amber can give us an unprecedented view into prehistoric life, preserving softer elements that regular fossilization just can't.
No living species of spider has a tail but Mr Selden said the arachnid's remote habitat made it possible that tailed descendants may still be alive in Myanmar's backcountry to this day. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.
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