A 100 million year-old spider-like creature with a tail was just discovered in Myanmar. Yes, you read that correctly—a spider with a tail. The new species—long extinct—was identified in a piece of amber by an international research team. They dubbed it Chimerarachne yingi, after the Greek mythological Chimera, which is a horrifying creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. Unlike the Chimera, the Chimerarachne doesn’t breathe fire, nor does it appear to be a man-eating monster, in fact the species is tiny, its body length measures only about 2.5 millimeters. But it does have a tail (which is pretty novel for a spider), and researchers think it provides an evolutionary link between an ancient order of spiders and the creepy-crawlers that inhabit the planet today.
“The [ancient spiders] we recognized previously were different in that they had a tail but don’t have the spinnerets [the silk-producing spinnerets at its rear],” said Paul Selden of the Paleontological Institute and Department of Geology at the University of Kansas, in a press release. “That’s why the new one is really interesting, apart from the fact that it’s much younger — it seems to be an intermediate form. In our analysis, it comes out sort of in between the older one that hadn’t developed the spinneret and modern spider that has lost the tail.”
Despite being about 100 million years old, the Chimerarachne has many of the same qualities as a modern spider: it has fangs, eight legs, spinnerets, and would probably make you yelp like a baby if you saw one crawling towards you. The tail, which at about 3-millimeters in length is longer than the spider’s body, was likely used as a sensory tool.
“Any sort of flagelliform appendage tends to be like an antenna,” said Selden in the same press release. “It’s for sensing the environment. Animals that have a long whippy tail tend to have it for sensory purposes.”
Notably, no known living spider has a tail. However, Selden has proposed that tailed descendants of some sort may still be living in Myanmar’s extensive forests. A military dictatorship for much of the last 70 years meant that Myanmar has remained largely untouched and unexplored; over 60% of the country is covered by forest, making it one of the most forested countries in the region. So, yeah, there could be tailed spiders hidden in the jewel of Asia.
“[The ancient Burmese jungle] was a pretty good tropical rainforest, and there are a great many other arachnids we know were there, particularly spiders, that are very similar to the ones you find today in the southeast Asian rainforest,” said Selden. “It makes us wonder if these may still be alive today. We haven’t found them, but some of these forests aren’t that well-studied, and it’s only a tiny creature.”
It’s humbling to think that, despite all that humanity has accomplished (and destroyed) there are likely still undiscovered species roaming around the planet. The fact that one of these species might be a spooky spider with a tail detracts a bit from the beauty of that point, but I think it still stands. As Ghandi said, “the good man is the friend of all living things.”