Researchers Discover 305-Million-Year-Old “Early Spider” Fossil

March 31, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Idmonarachne brasieri
Photo credit: Garwood et al 2016 / Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

The scientists hope the find will improve their understanding of the origins of modern-day spiders.

Researchers have discovered the fossil remains of a new species of arachnid, and it’s believed to be more than 305 million years old!

The species, named Idmonarachne brasieri, was discovered in Montceau-les-Mines in France. In a combined effort, researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Manchester, Berlin’s museum für Naturkunde, and the University of Kansas, have been working with the natural history museum in Paris and Diamond Light Source to examine and scan the fossil remains with great detail.

Following high-resolution CT scans, the researchers were able to reconstruct and preserve the arachnid fossil in 3D, allowing them to investigate fine macroscopic and anatomical details of the fossil. The team identified various arachnid traits, like spider fangs, as well as some unique traits, including the lack of a tail-like appendage found in known arachnid ancestors that lived during the same period.

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Lead author Russell Garwood, of the School of Earth, Atmospheric & Environmental Sciences stated in their media release, “Our new fossil occupies a key position in the evolution of spiders. It isn’t a true spider, but has given us new information regarding the order in which the bits of the anatomy we associate with spiders appeared as the group evolved.”  

"Arachnids as a whole are an incredibly successful group,” Garwood said in conversation with Live Science. “They're the most diverse group of living organisms after insects. They're really, really successful — but we have a very limited understanding of how they are related to each other."

Earlier findings in 2008 suggested that a group of arachnids, called Uraraneida, a relative of true spiders, was able to produce silk, but wasn’t able to spin a web because they lacked the specialised appendages called spinnerets. These early spiders also had a tail-like structure called a flagellum, which has since disappeared from true spiders over evolutionary time.

Currently our understanding of the origins of spiders is still very limited, with little knowledge about the predecessors of modern spiders. The authors of this study hope that the latest discovery of Idmonarachne brasieri, will give them better insight to how the arachnid family of early spiders are related to each other, as well as how modern-day spiders developed from their early ancestors.

Their findings were published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

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