Researchers believe to have found a link between modern eight-legged spiders and a prehistoric group of arachnids that had a whip-like tail and fangs. The two studies detailing the discovery were published in the journal, Nature Ecology & Evolution. According to the researchers, the animal might still be alive today in the rainforests of southeast Asia, however, it remains unlikely.
Four fossils of the Chimerarachne yingi arachnid were found largely intact, encased in Burmese amber in Myanmar. The study suggests that this spider is a distant “cousin” to modern arachnids believed to have lived about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.
“We have known for a decade or so that spiders evolved from arachnids that had tails, more than 315 million years ago,” said Russel Garwood, co-researchers on the study and a professor at The University of Manchester.
According to the paper, the new fossil may be considered the earliest representative of the Aranae branch. More so, it suggests that this particular lineage of tailed spiders originated in the Palaeozoic period and was able to survive into the Cretaceous period of Southeast Asia. Thus, it is implied that the Chimerarachne yingi arachnid could have lived alongside spiders, according to Garwood.
What sets this arachnid apart is that they possess both a tail-like appendage similar to the tails found in other prehistoric arachnids and multi-segment silk-spinning organs. These organs were previously thought to have been exclusive to modern-day spiders. While the arachnid could have been able to use its spinnerets to silk, researchers don’t think it wove webs.
The discovery may shed light on the evolutionary history of spiders around the world.
Paul Brown, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said that these types of fossils are becoming more common due to the amber’s accessibility. Because of the Burmese amber’s age, which can preserve species dating back hundreds of millions of years, researchers can provide conclusive data on ancient animals without second-guessing the findings.
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