Spider Fossils With Tails: 'Fantastic' Arachnid Surprise

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But Bo Wang, also at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, and his colleagues examined two other fossils of the species and argue that its advanced silk-spinning apparatus shows it was part of a lineage of tailed spiders that survived until at least 100 million years ago.

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 new creature looks just like a spider, with common body parts including fangs and four legs that are specifically used for walking.

But Paul Selden, a palaeontologist at the University of Kansas who contributed to the study, says this tail wasn't as sinister as it sounds.

"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. The BBC reports the "cousin" of the spider - called a Chimerarachne yingi - lived about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. "It was a pretty good tropical rainforest, and there are a great many other arachnids we know were there, particularly spiders, that are very similar to the ones you find today in the southeast Asian rainforest". All but the most primitive spiders have smooth backs, unlike the segmented abdomens of scorpions, which are believed to have diverged from an ancestral arachnid more than 430 million years ago.

Amber, often used in jewellery, is fossilised tree resin, the oldest dating back more than 300 million years. The scientists got excited after getting hold of the first evidence of ancient tailed spiders. Researchers do not entirely agree on how the creepy crawly should be classified, however.

But it's unique in that it has a "long flagellum, or tail", which is not something found on any living spider.

Researchers think the spiders lived among the trees due to their amber coffins. The tail lends it an exotic look that spider-fearing folk will likely find unsettling. It takes its name from the Greek mythological beast the Chimera, a hybrid composed of multiple animals.

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The finding is described in a paper appearing in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an global team including Paul Selden of the Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology at the University of Kansas and colleagues from China, Germany, Virginia and the United Kingdom.

Professor Selden said it was not inconceivable that the chimaera could even still be alive today.

"Chimerarachne could be considered as a spider".

The dorsal view of entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen.

Gonzalo Giribet, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who worked on Huang's team, said the new discovery might also shake up the arachnid family tree.

The species has a typical Uraraneidan telson, but also boasts trademark Araneaen structures, including well defined spinnerets for silk production.

"These are gorgeous creatures and would probably never harm a human, like 99.99% of the spiders", he said. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

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