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Spider with a tail discovered in 100m-year-old amber

07 February 2018

Unlike its spider cousins alive today, this guy had 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. Since it was found trapped in amber-the fossilized resin of tree-it seems likely that C. yingi lived in and around trees.

As a result, the species has been named Chimerarachne in reference to the Chimera - a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology which was composed of limbs from various animals.

Scientists have discovered a spider from 100 million years ago that had a tail, making it a potent nightmare fuel when its fangs and webbing are added to the mix.

That would mean that the tailed spider lived for about 200 million years side-by-side with spiders, Garwood, said. "It's for sensing the environment", he says. Four specimens of tiny tailed spider were discovered inside Burmese amber that was recovered from Myanmar.

"Maybe the tail originally had a sensory function; it is covered in short hairs, but when spiders changed to lifestyle like being sit-and-wait predators, the tail was no longer really needed and became lost", Bo Wang was quoted by The Guardian.

As well as a long flagellum (or tail), which takes their tiny body size from around 2.5 millimetres to 5.5 millimetres in length.

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If more specimens emerge, Selden and others hope to find out more about the spider's anatomy, behavior and whether it has a female counterpart.

Research papers detailing the discovery, which were published in Nature, are clear about one thing: C. yingi isn't a spider, but it's also not far off. Arachnids have a twisted history, and paleontologists know that some of the closest ancient relatives to spiders didn't survive through to the modern day.

But working back in time, the trail of animal remains in amber ends about 250 million years ago, making it very hard to trace the spider's earliest origins.

This is then offered for sale to various institutions, with the new species - dating back to the mid-Cretaceous period - coming to light when specimens were made available to the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

Professor Selden believes Chimerarachne represents "a kind of missing link" between true spiders and earlier spider forerunners that had tails but lacked spinnerets.

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. Despite the fact it could produce silk, it is not certain whether the animal constructed webs to trap food. The researchers write that "there must have been a continuum of character reduction and character acquisition" along the line of evolutionary development that led to modern spiders. "So, we hope to fill in more of the story", Selden said.

What makes the fossils so unusual, according to the two teams the leading studies, is that they possess both a tail-like appendage similar to those of other ancient arachnids and multi-segment silk-spinning organs only seen in more modern spiders.

Spider with a tail discovered in 100m-year-old amber