Spiders Had Tails 100 Million Years Ago, Fossil Shows

The dorsal view of entire Chimerarachne yingi specimen. Note the long tail-like appendage. Credit University of Kansas

But what makes the fossil so unique, and different to spiders of today, is the fact it has a tail.

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.

And because it was trapped in amber, the spider probably lived on or around tree trunks, Selden said.

The unusual combination of features gave the new species its name: Chimerarachne yingi, for the hybrid creatures called chimeras in Greek mythology.

Those with arachnophobia might want to look away now, as scientists have unearthed an incredible 100m-year-old spider that actually had a tail.

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.

.

Four fossils of the tiny crawlers were found largely intact, encased in Burmese amber that were recovered from Myanmar by researchers. If scientists discover, for instance, that C. yingi produced venom, it would make it more likely that the arachnid belonged to the evolutionary lineage of modern spiders. They only measured 2.5 millimeters in length with a tail longer than its body at 3 millimeters.

This odd appendage, which is absent in modern spiders, can be found in vinegaroons, a group of nightmarish scorpion-looking creatures that lives today.

Fossil hunters found the extraordinary creatures suspended in lumps of amber that formed 100m years ago in what is now Myanmar.

Scientists believe the tail was longer that its body and was used as a sensory device to seek out prey or escape predators. These specimens became available previous year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, he added.

For starters, in addition to fairly standard spider traits such as fangs and multi-segmented spinnerets that produce silk, there's that tail.

The finding is described in a paper appearing in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an worldwide 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.

Paul Selden, a palaeontologist who worked on the specimens at the University of Kansas, said they were "a kind of missing link" between the uraraneids and primitive living spiders. "In our analysis, it comes out sort of in between the older one that hadn't developed the spinneret and modern spider that has lost the tail". But it's not entirely certain that C. yingi is a Uraraneid, judging from the silk-producing organs which were more similar to those of modern spiders.

Yes, we know that spiders are still terrifying.

If you're one of the many people who have a fear of spiders, going back in time 100 million years apparently wouldn't have done you any good. Some argue that spinnerets were the key innovation that allowed spiders to become so successful; there are almost 50,000 known spider species alive today. "We've not found fossils before that showed this, and so finding this now was a huge surprise", said Garwood.

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