Spider with a tail of 100 million years

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Finding the creature trapped in amber clued researchers like Paul Selden of the University of Kansas Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology into where exactly these ancient arachnids lived.

The amber has often traveled to China, where dealers have been selling to research institutions. "Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna ..."

The tiny animal was trapped in amber, ie petrified resin, so it probably lived under a tree with resin.

The Cretaceous-era critter has been dubbed Chimerarachne yingi, borrowing its name from the Chimera, a mythological creature composed of the parts of several different animals.

The other team pointed to the long tail and a segmented body to argue that Chimerarachne yingi belongs instead to a far more ancient and extinct lineage at least 380 million years old. No living spider has a tail, although some relatives of spiders, the vinegaroons, do have an anal flagellum.

In a paper published to Nature Ecology & Evolution, the worldwide research team revealed that it found four new specimens of the species, each of which measures just 2.5mm in body length, while the tail adds an extra 3mm.

The creature, which has been named Chimerarachne yingi, boasts a unusual mix of features that we see on modern-day arachnids. If it makes you feel any better, they're all tiny, with body lengths of about a tenth of an inch (2.5 millimeters), though the tail adds an extra 3 millimeters.

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The specimens had spinnerets, or silk-spinning organs, jutting from the bottom of their abdomens - a feature they share with modern-day spiders.

"Maybe the tail originally had a sensory function; it is covered in short hairs, but when spiders changed to lifestyle like being sit-and-wait predators, the tail was no longer really needed and became lost", Bo Wang was quoted by The Guardian. These specimens became available past year to Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, he added.

Details of the new species are revealed in a paper published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. 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.

The researchers have found four fossils of the spider entombed in chunks of amber from northern Myanmar which helped the scientists to establish a link between the modern spiders and an ancient group of arachnids that had a tail.

While the tailed spider was capable of producing silk due to its spinnerets, Selden said it was unlikely to have constructed webs to trap bugs like many modern spiders. Spider relatives that are almost three and four times as old as C. yingi also had tails but no spinnerets.

"And now suddenly we have another group that is not a spider that also has those characteristics", Giribet said. It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today.

Bo Wang, who worked on the creatures at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, said he was extremely surprised to find such key fossils from the Cretaceous period.

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