Scientists have used the latest computer-imaging technology to produce stunning three-dimensional pictures of a 49 million-year-old spider trapped inside an opaque piece of fossilized amber resin.
University of Manchester researchers, working with colleagues in Germany, created the intricate images using X-ray computed tomography to study the remarkable spider, which can barely be seen under the microscope in the old and darkened amber.
Writing in the international journal Naturwissenscaften, the scientists showed that the amber fossil housed in the Berlin Natural History Museum is a member of a living genus of the Huntsman spiders (Sparassidae), a group of often large, active, free-living spiders that are hardly ever trapped in amber.
As well as documenting the oldest ever huntsman spider, especially through a short film revealing astounding details, the scientists showed that even specimens in historical pieces of amber, which at first look very bad, can yield vital data when studied by computed tomography.
"More than 1,000 species of fossil spider have been described, many of them from amber," said Dr David Penney, from Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences. "The best-known source is Baltic amber which is about 49 million years old, and which has been actively studied for over 150 years.
"Indeed, some of the first fossil spiders to be described back in 1854 were from the historically significant collection of Georg Karl Berendt, which is held in the Berlin Natural History museum. A problem here is that 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."
Berendt's amber specimens were supposed to include the oldest example of a so-called Huntsman spider but this seemed strange as huntsman spiders are strong, quick animals that would be unlikely to be trapped in tree resin. To test
|Contact: Aeron Haworth|
University of Manchester