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The Rise of Spiders and Roaches

The 100-million-year-old spider Chimerarachne preserved in Burmese amber. Credit: Dr Diying Huang, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaoentology

The 100-million-year-old spider Chimerarachne preserved in Burmese amber. Credit: Dr Diying Huang, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaoentology

By John Long

Tiny fossils preserved in amber reveal when spiders evolved their ability to spin webs and cockroaches first spread across the globe.

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While it’s true that dinosaurs always take up the oxygen in the room when it comes to media coverage of palaeontology, it’s great to see that tiny fossils beautifully preserved in amber can also share the limelight. Recent finds of a remarkable fossil spider named Chimerarachne perfectly preserved in 100-million-year-old Cretaceous Burmese amber are able to add to the story of how spiders evolved their incredible ability to spin webs. The new discoveries were made by a team of scientists led by Diying Huang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China (https://goo.gl/ekh2AA).

Chimerarachne, meaning “chimera spider”, is a bizarre-looking spider with very long segmented tail that tapers into a flexible appendage – a primitive condition for spiders that is also found in an ancient group called the uraneid spiders, and to a much smaller degree in living spiders called mesotheles. These include spiders with segmented abdomens such as

Liphistius and Heptathela. Fossil mesotheles go back to the Carboniferous of France, around 295 million years ago.

A phylogenetic analysis of Chimerarachne suggests that the spinnerets used to make webs evolved more basally in the tree of spiders than previously thought. This discovery also extends the known range of the uraneid spiders...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.