Creepy 300-million-year-old spider fossil reveals hairs and claws

Scientists have recently identified a fossilised spider that lived 310 million years ago.

The ancient creepy crawly was described in a scientific paper as the oldest spider found in Germany.

Named Arthrolycosa wolterbeeki, the spider was found in the Piesberg quarry near Osnabruck in Lower Saxony.

This spider is between 310 and 315 million years old and was named after its discoverer, Tim Wolterbeek, who donated the fossil to the Berlin Museum for study.

‘This spider probably had a body length of about a centimetre and a leg span of about 4cm. It is preserved well enough to show details of the silk-producing spinnerets and even hairs and claws on the legs,’ said the paper, published in the journal Paläontologische Zeitschrift.

This is the first Palaeozoic spider from Germany, the next oldest coming from the Mesozoic (Jurassic).

Spiders are one of nature’s great success stories, with more than 51,000 species described worldwide so far and about a thousand of them living in Germany.

Although spiders are widespread and abundant today, more than 300 million years ago they do not appear to have been especially common.

The present study notes that modern mesothele spiders spend most of their lives in a burrow surrounded by silk threads which act as ‘tripwires’.

‘If fossils like Arthrolycosa wolterbeeki had a similar lifestyle they may only occasionally have ventured out and would rarely have fallen into water where they could be preserved as fossils,’ said the researchers.

‘At the same time the major evolutionary radiation of spiders into the modern groups probably only started later in the Mesozoic, perhaps alongside radiations of insects, when spiders started building different types of webs to catch increasing number of flying insects from the air.’

Spiders of this age are still extremely rare, with only 12 Carboniferous species worldwide confidently identified as spiders. Previous examples have been from France, the Czech Republic, Poland and the USA.

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