Scientists Find 305 Million-Year-Old Spider Missing Link

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Spiders can definitely be referred to as creepy crawlers, and not only because of a single factor. Many things about the creatures scream “alien” and “mysterious,” making them some truly interesting beings. And regardless of how much they are under study, new information is revealed about the arachnids every single day.

In another example showing how many interesting things are currently lost in the annals of various museums around the world, scientists find 305 million-year-old spider missing link in the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. The fossil had been there since the 1980s, discovered by amateur fossil hunter Daniel Scotty.

To be fair, the fossil couldn’t really have been investigated without all the modern technology we have today, as it was mostly encased in rock. University of Manchester paleontologists used high resolution CT scans to create a 3D model of the ancient not-quite-spider. It’s nothing that has even been encountered before.

In the paper published in The Royal Society Publishing, the team talks about how Idmonarachne brasieri is the closest thing to a spider ever encountered that isn’t really a spider. So, with its eight legs, spidery mouth, and 1.5 cm in length, how is the fossilized creature not actually a spider?

Well, the difference is so subtle that the researchers could have missed it if they hadn’t used the 3D model to investigate the arachnid. Despite being able to produce web and easily eject it, the tiny creature didn’t have a spinneret, the part a spider uses to spin the silk it produces.

Paleontologist Dr. Russel Garwood of the University of Manchester, lead author of the paper on the spider cousin, had this to say about the evolutionary path of the creature:

Our creature probably split off from the spider line after [Attercopus], but before true spiders appeared. The earliest known spider is actually from the same fossil deposit – and it definitely has spinnerets. So what we’re actually looking at is an extinct lineage that split off the spider line some time before 305 million years ago, and those two have evolved in parallel.

Part of the uraraneids, a group of spider relatives that lived between some 385 million years to 305 million years ago, Idmonarachne brasieri was named after Idmon, the Greek mythological father of the weaver Arachne (who was turned into a spider), and after a world renowned Oxford paleobiologist who died in a car crash in 2014, Martin Brasier.

The team is further going to investigate the ancient creature in their attempts to find out more about the evolution of modern day spiders. This will help confirm a long-standing theory according to which the spinnerets are what helped the spiders be so evolutionarily successful.

Image source: Pixabay