Meet Your New Nightmare: Ancient Spider With A Tail Preserved in Amber

The new animal resembles a spider in having fangs male pedipalps four walking legs and silk-producing spinnerets but also bears a long flagellum or tail. Credit Dinghua Yang

Despite its fearsome appearance, the fanged Chimerarachne was only about three-tenths of an inch (7.5 mm) long, more than half of which was its tail.

"We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks", he said. Today's spiders can sense the environment in a multitude of ways, such feeling vibrations on their webs.

Selden said the spider's remote habitat made it possible that tailed descendants may still be alive in Myanmar's backcountry to this day. "Amber is fossilized resin, so for a spider to have become trapped, it may well have lived under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree". It has eight spider-like legs and fangs up front, while its rear end is dominated by silk-producing spinnerets punctuated by a long, thin tail. The newfound value of the material means that dealers now buy up the amber and sell it on to scientific institutions. The two groups didn't know they were working on such similar fossils until it came time to publish their findings, says Paul Selden, director of The Paleontological Institute at the University of Kansas and a co-author of one of today's studies.

The specimens had spinnerets, or silk-spinning organs, jutting from the bottom of their abdomens - a feature they share with modern-day spiders. The males also have modified pedipalps - syringe-like appendages on the fronts of their faces that modern spiders use during mating.

The first Uraraneida fossil was discovered in NY state in the USA in 1987 and was initially misidentified as a spider. In the last few years, we've seen some incredible finds inside amber, including a tick in the middle of a meal, an otherworldly insect, a bug that's jumped out of its skin, mammalian red blood cells, and a dinosaur tail complete with feathers. "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". One of them, Wang Bo, pulled together a team to look at his two specimens, which they eventually named Chimerachne yingi ("chimera spider" in Latin). According to the study, the chimera spider may have been using the silk to wrap eggs, a function that has previously been suggested to be the original objective of spinnerets. "Egg-wrapping is a vital function for spider silk, as well as laying a trail to find its way back home".




The spider lived on the islands of Myanmar - formerly Burma - during the mid-Cretaceous when Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the planet.

Spiders went up into the air when the insects went up into the air. Spiders went up into the air when the insects went up into the air.

Amber can give us an unprecedented view into prehistoric life, preserving softer elements that regular fossilization just can't.

"We know a lot about the Burmese biota during the Cretaceous", he said.

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. 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.

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