Arachnophobes take heed: This ancient spider had a whip-like tail

Cesar Mills
February 7, 2018

Researchers think the spiders lived among the trees due to their amber coffins. At the origins of the identification of this new spider species are four primitive spider fossils, captured in amber 100 million years ago on the territory of actual Myanmar.

Yet they also have a segmented abdomen and a long tail, like a whip scorpion's whip, Wang and his colleagues report today in the same journal. The scientists believe that the tail "swished from side to side" while the creature moved in order to sense predators or prey.

These early arachnids, scientifically classified as Chimerarachne yingi, contain the spinneret organs that modern spiders use to create their spectacular, varied, and complex aerial webs.

"Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes", Paul Selden, a paleontologist at the University of Kansas and a co-author of one of the studies, says in a statement. On the basis of the creature's tail, they conclude that it belongs to the Uraraneida, a group of spider relatives that was thought to have gone extinct around 275 million years ago. According to the researchers, it is even possible that some of this species queens are still present in the Myanmar forests.

The dorsal view of the spider encased in amber.

An global team of researchers has been investigating an "extraordinary" 100 million year old fossil of a new species called Chimerarachne yingi found in Myanmar. But at some stage modern spiders ditched the tail.

The odd creature shares certain characteristics with modern spiders - including fangs, four walking legs and silk-producing organs at its rear - however, it also has a long tail, or flagellum - a feature that living spiders lack.

Chimerarachne yingi fossil
Chimerarachne yingi fossil

Scientists have identified many spiders from this lineage in the same amber deposit from the Cretaceous period.

"Silk-spinning spiders with and without tails co-existed for millennia, the authors agree". "These are gorgeous creatures and would probably never harm a human, like 99.99% of the spiders", he said.

"Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna", he said in a University of Kansas media statement. The animal itself is only two and a half millimeters long, with its tail reaching three millimeters. "These all evolved before spiders made it up into the air and made insect traps". Just this month, a 99-million-year-old bird was found in a cloudy slab of Burmese amber, and other specimens including dinosaur tails, ticks, other bird parts, and more ancient spiders have also been discovered.

"We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks", Selden said, adding that unlike modern spiders - and despite its ability to produce silk - it likely didn't produce webs.

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

Prof Selden said: "There's been a lot of amber being produced from northern Myanmar and its interest stepped up about 10 years ago when it was discovered this amber was mid-Cretaceous".

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