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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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).
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Nature Ecology & Evolution (2018)