Scientists Discover An Ancient Relative of the Spider

Thursday, 31 March 2016 - 8:26PM
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Thursday, 31 March 2016 - 8:26PM
Scientists Discover An Ancient Relative of the Spider
The cladistics and evolution of modern arachnids is something that still isn't totally understood by modern zoologists. However, they're now one step closer thanks to the discovery of a fossil that has been dubbed by some as "the almost spider."



The fossil is of an ancient arachnid that dates back to 305 million years ago. It shares many similarities to modern spiders, but it lacks one key feature: spinnerets. Spinnerets allow the spider to turn their silk into webs, and Idmonarachne brasieri, as it has been named, does not have them.

It's name is a reference to the Greek myth Idmon, who was the father of Arachne (who was turned into - you guessed it - a spider).

One of the oldest actual spider fossils date back to the same time period, showing that Idmonarachne brasieri probably lived along side them. It's thought that modern spiders underwent speciation off of the same line that the almost spider is from, much like humans underwent speciation off of the same line as Neanderthals. In other words, it's not necessarily an ancestor of the spider, just a relative (like the Neanderthal is to the human, though some humans do have Neanderthals as ancestors).

The almost spider is just 10 millimeters long, and the fossil was technically found about ten years ago. However, half of it is buried in rock, and that made it almost impossible to examine until now. By a process called computed tomography, the scientists studying the fossil were finally able to take a look at its legs and mouthparts, allowing them to make a decision about what species it belonged to.  

There's still a lot to learn about the evolution of arachnids, but this was certainly an interesting step forward. It's definitely a great example of how as technology progresses, more exciting discoveries in these various scientific fields can be made.
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