Largest Fossil Spider: 165-million-year-old fossil sets world record

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scientists in China found a new spider fossil, a new species called Nephila jurassica, a 165 million-year-old golden orb weaver whose legs spanned an impressive 15cm - setting the new world record for the Largest Fossil Spider.

The Guinness world record for the oldest fossil spider trapped in amber has been dated at 125-135 million years old. It is from the family linyphiidae, and was discovered in Lebanon and analysed by David Penney and Paul Selden (both University of Manchester, UK).

Guinness World Records also recognized the oldest spider silk in the world dates from the Early Cretaceous Period, more than 120 million years ago and was described in the journal 'Nature' by Swiss researcher Dr Samuel Zschokke from the University of Basel.

The Golden Orb Weaver has been named Nephila jurassica. It lived in the forests of northern China when the climate was much warmer and more tropical than today.

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.

Measuring nearly 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in length, the 165-million-year-old fossil was uncovered in 2005 by farmers in Inner Mongolia —a region teeming with fossils from the middle Jurassic period.

"Compared to all other spider fossils, this one is huge," said study co-author ChungKun Shih, a visiting professor at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China.

"When I first saw it, I immediately realized that it was very unique not only because of its size, but also because the preservation was excellent," Shih said.

Fine volcanic ash preserved the specimen's exquisite features, such as mouthparts and hairlike structures that covered its legs, according to the study.

The fossil spider shows that Nephila is the spider genus that's been around the longest. The rare discovery pushes back the origin of the genus by about 130 million years.

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