What Is It?

Charlotte's ancestor

Paul A. Selden

Thanks to a chance find by farmers in Inner Mongolia, scientists have learned that today’s largest web-weaving spiders are about 130 million years older than previously thought. In 2005 Chinese farmers digging in ancient volcanic ash unearthed the fossil at the right, the biggest spider fossil ever discovered and one of the best preserved. Paul A. Selden, director of the University of Kansas Paleontological Institute, and his colleagues, writing in April in the online Biology Letters, report that the female spider, a member of the Nephila genus, measures nearly one inch in length, has a leg span of more than five inches and is 165 million years old. “Extremely fine details, such as sensory hairs called trichobothria, which the spider uses to detect air vibrations, can be seen,” Selden says. No word on her ability to write “Some pig.”

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