Researchers discover a primitive spider with a scorpion-like tail in amber dating back 100 million years.
Scientists have named the creature Chimerarachne Ying (C. Yingi) after Chimera, a monster from Greek mythology made of parts of more than one creature.
The ‘spider,’ which has fangs and eight legs, lived over 100 million years ago. Similar to today’s’ scorpions, the bug also has a whip-like tail, unlike modern spiders.
Upon inspection, scientists discovered the creature’s tail was longer than its body.
According to research in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the tail served as a sort of antenna. Presumably, for locating predators or prey.
Paul Selden, a paleontologist and arachnologist at the University of Kansas, said:
“Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna.”
“It’s for sensing the environment. Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes.”
The creature also probably lived in or near trees, since it was encased in amber. But further details about its lifestyle are impossible to ascertain.
“We can only speculate that, because it was trapped in amber, we assume it was living on or around tree trunks.”
“Amber is a 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.”
“We [also] don’t know if it wove webs.”
“Spinnerets are used to produce silk but for a whole host of reasons – to wrap eggs, to make burrows, to make sleeping hammocks, or just to leave behind trails. If they live in burrows and leave, they leave a trail so they can find their way back.”
Selden belongs to one of two research teams that have published papers on the arachnid.
And the creature’s peculiar mix of features presented a puzzle for the teams. As a result, each group reaches a different conclusion.
One team (lead by Dr. Giribet) suggest C. Yingi belonged to a group of extinct spider relatives called Uraraneida, which had tails.
Unlike today’s spiders, Uraraneids had plates on their bellies rather than squishy abdomens.
They also had silk-producing organs, on the edges of their plates, and not on rear end spinnerets like today’s spiders.
Selden team agrees C. Yingi may have been a part of the Uraraneida group. But they suggest the creature could earn its own branch on the evolutionary tree right between spiders and Uraraneida.
The classification of whether C. Yingi was more closely related to Uraraneids or modern spiders is still resolved.
Only by finding more of these creatures can scientists resolve the rest of the spider’s evolutionary history.