Ancient Spiders Were Even Creepier

By Courtney Flannery 2014-04-14 08:18:31
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There are really just two schools of thought on spiders. Some people think they're fascinating little bugs that should be protected and other people are horrified that they exist and wish they would fall into the vacuum of space. I personally fall into the second camp. Despite the fact that I can't stand them, I will admit there's something interesting about them in a creepy way. Thanks to a new scientific discovery, however, it turns out they may have been even creepier in the past.

According to the Mother Nature Network, researchers have discovered that an ancestor to the daddy long leg spiders, also called harvestmen, used to have two pairs of eyes instead of just one. Russell Garwood,paleontologist, and his team of scientists at University of Manchester in the United Kingdom led the study. In France, some fossils of the long limbed arachnids were discovered that showed the surprising set of peepers.

Scientists then used x-rays to scan the fossils and make detailed images to analyze in closer detail. They discovered that the specimen was 305 million years old and still in good enough shape to get information out of. For some perspective, this fossil predates the death of dinosaurs by 240 million years. The spider's eyes were located both on the center and side of its head. Interestingly, this variety of harvestmen are technically arachnids because they have eight legs. As such, they're more closely related to modern scorpions than spiders. And while today spiders can have four eyes, the daddy long leg variety only have two. The research team was able to track the set of eyes that vanished over time by comparing the embryos of modern day harvestmen spiders. They discovered that a little bit of the gene that caused the second pair of eyes to appear still exists in their DNA, but is so small it doesn't show up as a trait.

Evolution is a pretty hot topic in the United States in both public and private forums. Scientists are constantly finding new ways to explain how evolution works to make it more accessible to the average person. There are also discoveries like mapping genes that can help us figure out how different species are related. With more work being done to show evidence of change through time, maybe more people can be persuaded to the more scientific side of the debate.

This find is extremely rare as most anthropods, or animals with external skeletons, don't tend to preserve very well over time. Scientists are trying hard to fill in the evolutionary history of all living creatures, and this study is a major leap forward for research with spiders and animals like them. Personally, I'm all for studying spider fossils. They're already dead and can't jump on me or bite me or turn me into a radioactive super hero . Maybe that last one wouldn't be such a bad thing.
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