Thursday, April 21, 2011

1/2 foot long fossilised spider 'biggest on record'

Fossil spiderThe legs would have spanned up to 15cm, front to back (scale-bar: 5mm)

Scientists say a fossilised spider from the Inner Mongolian region of China is the biggest yet found.

The female, which lived about 165 million years ago, belongs to a collection of spiders well known today - the golden orb weavers.

These creatures make webs from a very tough and distinctively golden silk.

The researchers tell the journal Biology Letters that Nephila jurassica, as they have called their specimen, would have had a leg span of some 15cm.

"She is the largest known fossil spider," said Professor Paul Selden from the University of Kansas, US.

"Her body is not the biggest, but if you add in her long legs then she's the largest," he told BBC News.

Today's Nephila species are found around the globe in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Until this new fossil turned up in Inner Mongolia, the most ancient example from this grouping, or genus, was about 35 million years old.

So, this discovery pushes the existence of the Nephila back to the Jurassic Period, making them the longest ranging spider genus known.

No-one can say for sure how this particular arachnid met her end, but she may have succumbed to a natural catastrophe.

The spider was encased in volcanic ash at the bottom of what would have been a lake.

via BBC News - Fossilised spider 'biggest on record'.

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