Tropical Huntsman

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on May 28, 2011

AAAS: “Imaging technology reveals intricate details of 49-million-year-old spider Tropical Huntsman spider trapped in Baltic amber for millions of years?

Arachnologists and paleontologists have found a way to peer through opacified amber to see if an ancient Huntsman spider is really what 19th century naturalist Georg Karl Berendt said it was. “These old, historical amber pieces have reacted with oxygen over time and are now often dark or cracked, making it hard to see the animal specimens inside,” says Dr. David Penney.

Because the modern Huntsman spider is a very active spider native to the tropics and southern Europe, experts wondered if Berendt had erred identifying this member of his spider collection. Using a CT scanner, a finely detailed 3-D image of the spider was produced. “We were able to show that the fossil is unquestionably a Huntsman spider and belongs to a genus called Eusparassus, which lives in the tropics and also Europe 50 million years ago,” reports Dr. Penney.

The spider is preserved in Baltic amber, which like all amber is hardened polymerized tree resin. The actual chemical composition of amber depends upon the kind of tree which produced it. Baltic amber contains large quantities of the chemical succinite, and its tree of origin is still debated. As its name suggests, Baltic amber is found throughout northern Europe, and of all amber it tends to have the richest fossil content. Baltic amber is commonly dated at 35–50 million years old based on surrounding rocks. Thus, the Huntsman spider being examined is believed by the researchers to be 50 million years old.

He appears as modern as his descendants. This fact does not surprise us, since we are confident that the amber is no more than a few thousand years old.

Evidently, Huntsman spiders have made no evolutionary progress or even any speciation changes since this one managed to get himself entombed. He appears as modern as his descendants. This fact does not surprise us, since we are confident that the amber is no more than a few thousand years old.

Actually, the finding of amber-trapped modern-appearing insects from far away regions is quite consistent with the scrambling of amber fossils expected in the wake of the worldwide Flood or the subsequent Ice Age. The structural details of more amber-trapped creatures should soon become available as this non-destructive technique is used to see what’s hidden inside more pieces of the preserving polymer. As Dr. Penney says, now “other scientifically important specimens in historical pieces of darkened amber can be investigated and compared to their living relatives in the same way.”

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