Published: Wed, February 07, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Fossilised spiders with 'tails' found in Myanmar rainforest

Fossilised spiders with 'tails' found in Myanmar rainforest

If you're not a fan of spiders, this is one fossil sure to give you the creeps. Chimerarachne may have lived under bark or in the moss at the foot of a tree. But experts disagree about how these fossils relate to modern-day spiders, because there's something unusual about their crumpled corpses: all four of them have tails.

"No living spider has a tail, although some relatives of spiders, the vinegaroons, do have an anal flagellum", the University of Kansas said in a statement.

Specimens belonging to the newly identified species called Chimerarachne yingi were collected from the amber markets of Myanmar, where paleontologists have time and time again come across invaluable fossils.

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. The latest study revealed that there might be a link between the ancient arachnids and the modern-day spiders. According to the researchers, it is even possible that some of this species queens are still present in the Myanmar forests.

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The team from the University of Kansas had previously predicted the existence of these creatures, but placed then in older periods around 380 million years ago.

"All four specimens are adult males, which would have been roving around looking for females at this point in their lives", Selden said.

The extraordinary finding is described in Nature Ecology & Evolution by an global team which included earth scientist Dr Russell Garwood of Manchester University. The spider-like animal had a tail longer than its body length, according to an worldwide team of researchers from China, Germany, the United Kingdom and U.S.

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. They're also all male, which Selden says makes sense based on the behavior of modern spiders: adult male spiders are more likely to be wandering around somewhere they could become trapped in the flowing tree sap that hardened into amber.

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Although the spiders that commonly dangle in our homes and gardens have no tails, that doesn't necessarily mean that their tailed evolutionary cousins are, in fact, extinct.

Atypical, though, are the spiders' long, slim tails, which measure about 3mm long and feature short hairs. If they live in burrows and leave, they leave a trail so they can find their way back.

Explaining the tail, Selden says: "Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna". However, like all spiders it would have been a carnivore and would have eaten insects, I imagine. The specimens were actually found in Myanmar where amateur amber hunters bring their finds to sell to the highest bidder.

"We know a lot about the Burmese biota during the Cretaceous". The other thinks the arachnid may have been an early branch of modern spiders-"a kind of missing link" between the uraraneids and the spiders we know today, Selden tells Ian Sample of the Guardian.

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Professor Selden said it was not inconceivable that the chimaera could even still be alive today.

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