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Cretaceous arachnid Chimerarachne yingi gen. et sp. nov. illuminates spider origins

Abstract

Spiders (Araneae) are a hugely successful lineage with a long history. Details of their origins remain obscure, with little knowledge of their stem group and few insights into the sequence of character acquisition during spider evolution. Here, we describe Chimerarachne yingi gen. et sp. nov., a remarkable arachnid from the mid-Cretaceous (approximately 100 million years ago) Burmese amber of Myanmar, which documents a key transition stage in spider evolution. Like uraraneids, the two fossils available retain a segmented opisthosoma bearing a whip-like telson, but also preserve two traditional synapomorphies for Araneae: a male pedipalp modified for sperm transfer and well-defined spinnerets resembling those of modern mesothele spiders. This unique character combination resolves C. yingi within a clade including both Araneae and Uraraneida; however, its exact position relative to these orders is sensitive to different parameters of our phylogenetic analysis. Our new fossil most likely represents the earliest branch of the Araneae, and implies that there was a lineage of tailed spiders that presumably originated in the Palaeozoic and survived at least into the Cretaceous of Southeast Asia.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to M. Engel and J. Wunderlich for helpful initial comments, Y. Huang and Y. Ying for providing specimens, Z. Yin and S. Wu for the micro-computed tomography reconstruction, J. Keating for advice on Bayesian inference of phylogeny and D. Yang for the reconstruction. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41572010, 41622201 and 41688103), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDPB05) and the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (number 2011224).

Author information

B.W. designed the project. B.W., J.A.D., P.A.S., R.J.G. and W.A.S. all contributed to observation and interpretation of the fossils and drafted the manuscript. B.W. and X.L. produced the photographs. P.A.S. produced the line drawings, measurements and description. R.J.G. ran the phylogenetic analysis. P.M. collected data.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Bo Wang.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary figures, phylogenetic reconstruction and character list

  2. Life Sciences Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Data

    Executable data matrices

  4. Supplementary Video

    3D reconstruction of specimen NIGP166871

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Holotype NIGP166870 of C. yingi.
Fig. 2: Paratype NIGP166871 of C. yingi.
Fig. 3: Morphological details and reconstruction.
Fig. 4: C. yingi NIGP166870 and NIGP166871.
Fig. 5: Phylogenetic relationships.
Fig. 6: Evolutionary history of spiders and spider-related arachnids.