The history of China is steeped in discovery, tradition, innovation and the invention of a myriad of things; including paper, pasta and gunpowder. But who ever expected it to be home to the world’s largest spider fossil?
The discovery of the arachnid buried in ancient volcanic ash in Inner Mongolia, China, is important because it makes this particular spider fossil named Nephila jurassica the oldest known species of the largest web-weaving spiders on the earth today, the golden orb weavers, with one exception.
Today’s golden orb versions are mild in comparison to this 165-million-year-old, 15 cm long (almost six inches) arachnid that was terrifying in its heydey and big enough to prey upon birds and bats. The species is known to use silk that shines like gold in the light of the sun.
“It would have lived, like today’s Nephila, in its orb web of golden silk in a clearing in a forest, or more likely at the edge of a forest close to the lake… There would have been volcanoes nearby producing the ash that forms the lake sediment it is entombed within,” says Paul Selden, director of the Paleontological Institute at the University of Kansas.
It is believed that the specimen found in a fossil-rich rock formation near Daohugou village in northeastern China is that of a female as the males of the species are much smaller, but there is no way to prove it.
While much mystery still surrounds the life of this giant arachnid, the fact that it foraged for food in the Middle Jurassic period indicates that the creature competed amid formidable adversaries, including dinosaurs such as Allosaurus, Archaeopteryx, and the mammoth-sized Apatosaurus and Diplodocus.
Researcher reported their findings in the April 20th Biology Letters.
Check out this video on the modern daily life of a golden orb spider.
So the next time you see a spider, it might be better to at least salute it.
Who knows how angry its larger relatives might be if you treat it badly?