Ancient Fossilized Spider With a Tail Resembles the 'Alien' Facehugger

Monday, 05 February 2018 - 7:08PM
Earth
Weird Science
Monday, 05 February 2018 - 7:08PM
Ancient Fossilized Spider With a Tail Resembles the 'Alien' Facehugger
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20th Century Fox
As cloning technology develops, many people are getting increasingly invested in the idea of bringing prehistoric animals back to life, Jurassic Park style, so that we can frolic with velociraptors and domesticate saber-toothed cats.

In our eagerness to resurrect long-dead critters, though, it might be worth avoiding one newly discovered specimen from the arachnid family. No matter how keen you might be on bringing back ancient animals, nobody wants to live in a world where spiders with tails exist.

And they did exist at some point, as four horrific prehistoric spiders which all have prehensile tails were found fossilized in amber. Because apparently eight legs aren't enough when you can also feel around with a ninth opposable limb.




A dig site in Myanmar has been producing some fantastic new discoveries, with plenty of creepy crawlies showing up that have been perfectly preserved in amber, much like the more fictional Jurassic Park (or, indeed, Aerodactyl in Pokémon). Sadly, it's not possible to actually extract dinosaur DNA from the prehistoric bloodsucking tics that have been found as part of this expedition, but it's still nice to know that Michael Crichton was almost correct when he wrote the book that inspired the Stephen Spielberg movie.

It was at this dig site that the four spiders with tails were uncovered, with the findings being published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Thankfully they're small, only a quarter-inch (5.5 millimeters) long.



Apparently, these spiders used their tails for exploring and navigating their environments, which, if you're not already grossed out enough by this image, probably means that they were constantly twitching and moving around while the spider walked. They're similar to vestigial tails that were present on far earlier, less advanced ancestors of the modern spider, and as such, scientists are excited by what appears to be the evolutionary missing link between the spiders of our day, and their distant ancestors.

The new species has been named chimerarachne yingi, which is quite a fun name - "chimera" is a reference to greek mythology and creatures that were hybrids of two different animals, while "arachne" is Greek for spider. Hence, the spider that is made of more than one species.



Of course, anyone who's seen an Alien movie is bound to recognize these critters. It's hard not to notice that the chimerarachne yingi looks an awful lot like the xenomorph facehugger, which latches onto its prey's mouth with its legs in order to lay eggs, while its tail dangles menacingly below. It's an image that's baked into the minds of sci-fi horror fans worldwide, and these amber-encased spiders definitely look the part.

Thankfully, they're sealed in amber, so there's very little chance of them breaking out and terrorizing mankind. That is, until a mad scientist (or Michael Fassbender) attempts to clone these creatures.

Perhaps it's time to stop worrying about the urban myth of swallowing spiders in your sleep, and time to start worrying that chimera spiders might one day be recreated just to make you squirm.
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