Fossilised spiders with 'tails' present in Myanmar

As if arachnids weren't terrifying enough, scientists find tailed spiders preserved in amber

The studies appeared Monday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The newfound value of the material means that dealers now buy up the amber and sell it on to scientific institutions.

The Chimerarachne looks an very bad lot like a spider: it has four pairs of walking legs, fangs, silk-spinning spinnerets at the rear, and pedipalps at the front.

Just for good measure, the newly-discovered species also had fangs - just like today's arachnids - through which it would inject venom into insects it trapped in pincer like claws.

Spiders are one of the success stories of the natural world, with more than 47,000 living species.

Four fossils of the tiny crawlers were found largely intact, encased in Burmese amber that were recovered from Myanmar by researchers.

"Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna", he said in a University of Kansas media statement.

One thing the team doesn't know is what the tail would have been used for or if the spider was venomous.

These are tiny arachnids, measured about 2.5 millimeters body length, excluding the almost 3-millimeter-long tail. Chimerarachne shared a common ancestor with the true spiders and resembles a member of the most primitive group of modern living spiders, the mesotheles, which are found today only in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.


Besides having a flagellum or tail - believed to have been used by the invertebrate as a sensory organ - Chimerarachne stands out from much older arachnids of 300 million years ago in having silk-producing spinnerets.

Although this fossil is ancient, Selden believes that because the spider is so small and exists so remotely, it could actually still be around today.

"The ones we recognised previously were different in that they had a tail but don't have the spinnerets", Selden said.

Scientists on Tuesday described four specimens of the arachnid, called Chimerarachne yingi, that inhabited a Cretaceous Period tropical forest about 100 million years ago during the dinosaur age.

Selden also noted that increased production of amber in northern Myanmar gave the team a great hint as to where they might potentially find more prehistoric creatures.

"We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks", he said.

Modern-day spiders don't have tails, but do have silk-producing spinnerets. These all evolved before spiders made it up into the air and made insect traps. Spiders went up into the air when the insects went up into the air. "I$3 t is covered in short hairs, but when spiders changed to lifestyles like being sit-and-wait predators, the tail was no longer really needed and became lost". But there is a chance, Seldon said, that descendants of the long-tailed arachnids live on in southeast Asian forests today. While C. yingi is not a true spider, as an ancient relative, it sheds light on the evolutionary history of arachnids, a class of eight-legged invertebrates that includes spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites.

They look like these older creatures so it's rather a surprise to see them alongside spiders, he said of the insects found alongside the fossils.

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