If you think Australian spiders are scary, wait until you see the prehistoric version.
Scientists have discovered a giant fossilized trapdoor spider in New South Wales, only the fourth specimen of its kind to be found in Australia.
The creature roamed and hunted in surrounding areas that were once lush rainforests, researchers said in a recently submitted report.
Last year, scientists discovered fossils of the rainforest region from millions of years ago, which were teeming with specimens including plants, magical spiders, giant cicadas and wasps.
The area is now a grassy area known as McGraths Flat.
The researchers named the fossil spider “Megamonodontium mccluskyi.” It likely lived in the Miocene era, 11 to 16 million years ago.
“Only four spider fossils have been found across the entire continent, making it difficult for scientists to understand their evolutionary history,” said paleontologist Matthew McCurry from the University of New South Wales and the Australian Museum.
“That is why this discovery is so important, as it reveals new information about the extinction of spiders and fills a gap in our understanding of the past.
“The closest living relatives to this fossil now live in the humid forests of Singapore and even Papua New Guinea.
“This suggests that the group lived in similar environments on mainland Australia, but then became extinct as Australia became drier.”
The spider was found among many other Miocene fossils. In some of them, the fossils were so well preserved that it was possible to form subcellular structures.
“Electron microscopy allowed us to study the fine details of the claws and bristles on the spider’s feet, legs and main body,” said virologist Michael Freese from the University of Canberra.
The details mean scientists can confidently place it close to a modern Monodontium, or trapdoor spider.
However, it is five times larger than its modern relatives. The body length of Megamonodontium mccluskyi is 23.31 mm, or just over an inch.
Different types of modern trapdoor spiderMatthew R. McCurry, Michael Freese, Robert Raven
The report added that the discovery of this species also tells us something about the past climate in Australia.
The fact that it was found in a layer of rainforest sediment means that the area was once wetter than it is now.
This, in turn, could help scientists understand how the warming climate has already changed the country’s forms of life – and how it could change them again.
“It is not only the largest fossilized spider ever found in Australia, but it is the first fossil of the Barychelidae family to be found worldwide,” said arachnologist Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum.
“There are about 300 species of brush-footed spiders alive today, but they don’t seem to become fossils very often.
“This may be because they spend a lot of time inside burrows and are therefore not in the right environment for fossilization.”
The results were published in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
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