Scientists have proven that modern-day spiders, scorpions and other arachnids descend from a distant ancestor, but a new discovery — well-preserved inside a block of amber unearthed in Myanmar — sheds new light on a truly nightmarish (but fascinating) eight-legged beast dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.
According to a report published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, an international research team has identified the fossilized remains of an arachnid species called Chimerarachne yingi, estimated at around 100 million years old — placing it during the Cretaceous period (despite what the JURASSIC PARK movies tell you, that’s the actual era when T-Rex and velociraptors roamed the planet).
While this species shares most physical traits with today’s spiders — eight legs, multiple eyes, silk-producing spinnerets, and distinctive mouth parts — it has some very distinctive and even bizarre differences.
The research team, which included Bo Wang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dr. Russell Garwood from the University of Manchester, noted in the article that Chimerarachne yingi has a very distinctive physical feature: a long, whip-like tail which looks a bit like that of a rodent.
Team members aren’t sure yet what purpose the tail served: Dr Jason Dunlop from Museum Für Naturkunde in Berlin theorizes it might be a precursor to the tail of the “whip scorpion,” a species still alive today.
While Chimerarachne yingi is very close genetic relative to the spiders we see today, it’s not a true ancestor to modern arachnids. Dr. Garwood notes it also lived during a time when “true spiders” were already thriving themselves. If this species had not gone extinct, who knows what it might look like today…