With its curious mix of ancient and modern traits — a long, skinny tail inherited from a distant arachnid ancestor, but a silk-producing organ like those found in spiders today — the tiny chimerarachne, or “chimera spider,” is not a member of the immediate family.
But it is one of modern spiders' closest cousins, and it presents intriguing hints at how they evolved. yingi fossils were uncovered by amber miners in northern Burma, sold to dealers, then purchased by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Until then, that lineage had only been found only in 50-million-year-old amber.
Gonzalo Giribet, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who worked on Huang's team, said the new discovery might also shake up the arachnid family tree.
This mix of features gave the spiders their name: a reference to a mythical creature with a lion's head and serpent-like tail.
This odd appendage, which is absent in modern spiders, can be found in vinegaroons, a group of nightmarish scorpion-looking creatures that lives today.
Happily, their results were close enough that the journal opted to publish both papers.
Both describe creatures so small they could fit on the tip of a fine-point pen, with eight legs and tiny but formidable fangs.
“And now suddenly we have another group that is not a spider that also has those characteristics,” Giribet said.
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