Researchers Discover 100-Million-Year-Old Spider with Tail 'Frozen' in Amber

Chimerarachne yingi fossil

About 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, four, tiny spider-like creatures became trapped in amber. An global 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. Male spiders have also evolved another modified "leg" between their fangs and the back four pairs of legs that inserts sperm into the female. 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.

While no living spider species has a tail, the feature isn't unheard of in the arachnid world.

The C. yingi fossils were uncovered by amber miners in northern Burma, sold to dealers, then purchased by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They're also all male, which Selden says makes sense based on the behavior of modern spiders: adult male spiders are more likely to be wandering around somewhere they could become trapped in the flowing tree sap that hardened into amber.

Scientists have discovered a groundbreaking arachnid species that lived millions of years ago - and it had a tail. "So, we hope to fill in more of the story", Selden said.

"That's why the new one is really interesting, apart from the fact that it's much younger - it seems to be an intermediate form", researcher Paul Selden said in the Kansas statement.

Modern-day spiders don't have tails, but do have silk-producing spinnerets.

How the spider would have looked.

Scientists found the creature trapped in a piece of amber from the mid-Cretaceous period, and now believe that it's an entirely new species.

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As for what its day-to-day life would have been like, the researchers can only guess.

The spider had spinnerets to make silk like modern spiders, but probably didn't spin the intricate webs we see today. "Spinnerets are used to produce silk but for a whole host of reasons - to wrap eggs, to make burrows, to make sleeping hammocks or just to leave behind trails".

Given its size, the team believes there is still a chance its ancestors could be living in the south-east Asian rainforest today.

Spiders went up into the air when the insects went up into the air. "Like all spiders it would have been a carnivore and would have eaten insects, I imagine".

Remarkably, the amber in which the four known examples of C. yingi were discovered wasn't yanked out of the ground by the scientists themselves.

The experts have named the newly discovered species Chimerarachne yingi, with the genus name coming from the fire-breathing chimera in Greek mythology that had the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

"We know a lot about the Burmese biota during the Cretaceous", he said. "We haven't found them", says Selden, "but some of these forests aren't that well-studied, and it's only a tiny creature". But experts disagree about how these fossils relate to modern-day spiders, because there's something unusual about their crumpled corpses: all four of them have tails.

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