Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Scientists Got a 410-Million-Year-Old Arachnid to Walk Again

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Scientists Got a 410-Million-Year-Old Arachnid to Walk Again

Article excerpt

Some 410 million years ago, a tiny creature walked the Earth, standing with its eight legs at the top of the terrestrial food chain.

Today, researchers have recreated its stroll on video.

The creature belonged to the order Trigonotarbid, the genus Palaeocharinus, both now extinct, and the class Arachnida, which includes modern-day spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions.

The scientists scanned fossils of this ancient arachnid and compared it with living arachnids. With that combined information, they created a simulation of the creature flexing, stretching, and crawling.

"When I started working on fossil arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like," said study coauthor Jason Dunlop, curator at the Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin, in a news release. "Now we can view them running across our computer screens."

These animals appear much like spiders alive today, but without the ability to produce a characteristic web-making silk.

What was its life like?This Palaeocharinus lived during the Devonian, when most of the globe was covered by a vast ocean. The landmasses were clustered together, forming two supercontinents, called Gondwana and Euramerica. The fossils that the researchers relied on for their study were unearthed in Scotland, at sites known to harbor remains of some of the oldest terrestrial ecosystems.

Back then, land-dwelling life was just beginning to diversify. Plant diversity exploded during this time, with the first trees emerging by the end of the period.

The animals on land largely consisted of arthropods, invertebrate animals with tough exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed limbs. Tiny insects and other invertebrates were likely sources of food for the Palaeocharinus.

"When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain," said study author Russell Garwood, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester in a news release. …

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