Scientists have discovered an ‘amazing’ ancient spider that had large, spiny legs

Paul Selden / Naturkunde Museum

The newly discovered species has distinctive spiny legs.

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The idea of ​​meeting face to face with A Spider-Such an unexpected creature is enough to fill any Arachnophobia With horror, let alone encountering one with large, spiky legs.

But that’s exactly what was roaming around what is now northeastern Illinois in the late Carboniferous period about 300 million to 320 million years ago, according to a study published Friday in the journal Journal of Paleontology.

The newly discovered long-extinct species is described as a “large arachnid-like arachnid” with “distinctive large spines on the legs” by the study’s authors. They were unable to place the creature in any known arachnid order because the specimen lacked mouthparts, which scientists use to classify it.

“You see kind of spiny legs in some spiders, but we’ve never seen one that had these big spines all the way through, at least the first parts of the legs,” said Dr. Jason Dunlop, curator of spiders and hundreds of legs at the Nature Museum in Berlin and co-author of the study. “It’s absolutely amazing,” he told CNN on Friday.

“We looked at it twice and said, ‘What are we looking at here?’

Paleontologist Bob Macek first discovered the specimen in the 1980s in fossil deposits preserved in Mazon Creek Lagerstadt, Illinois. (The German word is a term paleontologists use to describe an exceptional site containing many perfectly preserved fossils.) However, it was not until 2023 that it became clear that the specimen was a newly discovered species, and was donated for research by fossil collector David Douglas, who acquired it from Masick.

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The researchers then examined the fossil and photographed it using a camera attached to a microscope.

They found that the creature was “clearly something very different from any previously described spider”, and had spiny legs resembling some modern spiders. Harvest spiders But with a different body type.

Paul Selden / Naturkunde Museum

Scientists believe that the spiny legs were for defensive purposes.

Dunlop said it was likely that the creature used its spines for defensive purposes rather than attacking other animals, similar to hedgehog spines today.

“It means that if something tries to bite it, it grabs the spines in its mouth. “We’re talking about handling time, which means if you want to eat something spiny, it takes longer because you have to break the spines or bite off the parts that don’t have On thorns.”

“We can guess that there were scorpions and other spiders around,” Dunlop said, as well as primitive lizard-like animals or large amphibians that hunted these spiders, but it’s not possible to know for sure.

Without its mouthparts, researchers cannot identify its closest relative, but they hypothesize that it could belong to a broader group including spiders, whip spiders, and whip scorpions.

Paleontologists have only found this particular species in North America so far, but it could “appear elsewhere” in northern Europe as well, Dunlop said.

“There was probably a huge area across much of what is now Europe and North America, which was a kind of giant tropical rainforest, and wherever there is coal today, you have a reasonable chance of finding these fossils (spiders, plants, insects).” he added.

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Eventually, researchers named this species Douglassarachne acanthopoda. The genus name honors the Douglas family, which donated the specimen to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and the species name refers to the spines that make this spider so distinctive.

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