Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scary ancient spiders revealed in 3-D models, thanks to new imaging technique

07.08.2009
Early relatives of spiders that lived around 300 million years ago are revealed in new 3-D models, in research published today in the journal Biology Letters
Early relatives of spiders that lived around 300 million years ago are revealed in new three-dimensional models, in research published today in the journal Biology Letters.
Scientists at Imperial College London have created detailed 3D computer models of two fossilised specimens of ancient creatures called Cryptomartus hindi and Eophrynus prestvicii, closely related to modern-day spiders. The study reveals some of the physical traits that helped them to hunt for prey and evade predators.

The researchers created their images by using a CT scanning device, which enabled them to take 3,000 x-rays of each fossil. These x-rays were then compiled into precise 3D models, using custom-designed software.

Both Cryptomartus hindi and Eophrynus prestivicii were around the size of a 50 pence piece and they roamed the Earth during the Carboniferous period, 359 – 299 million years ago. This was a time before the dinosaurs, when life was emerging from the oceans to live on land. During this period, the world's continents were merging together near the equator to form one supercontinent and the first tropical rainforests were playing host to a diverse range of species.

Previous studies of the fossilised remains of Cryptomartus hindi allowed scientists to see some features of the creature, which had four pairs of legs and looked similar to a spider.

In the new study, the researchers' computer models reveal that Cryptomartus hindi's first two legs were angled towards the front of the body, which suggests that it used its legs to grab its prey before killing them. The researchers believe this find suggests the Cryptomartus hindi was an ambush predator, living in logs and fronds, waiting for prey such as insects to walk by before catching and killing them. This stance is seen in modern day crab spiders, which sit on the edge of flowers and wait for insects to land so that they can grab them.

The scientists also discovered that Cryptomartus hindi had ball-like growths at the base of its limbs, called coxal endites. The scientists believe the coxal endites could be an evolutionary hang-over from their last common ancestor, who probably used the growths at the base of their limbs to help them grind their food. These coxal endite-type growths can still be seen today in species such as horseshoe crabs, which use them to grind up their prey before pushing it into their backward-facing mouths.

The computer models also revealed that Cryptomartus hindi's mouth appendages, called pedipalps, had tiny 'tarsal' claws attached at the end to help the creature to manipulate its prey. These claws are seen in rare modern-day arachnids such as the Ricinulei. The researchers say that the existence of this common physical feature, shared by the Cryptomartus hindi and the Ricinulei, lends further weight to the theory that they are closely related.

The models also reveal new information about Eophrynus prestivicii. Previous studies of fossilised remains of this creature suggested that it could have hunted on the open forest floor. It had long legs that enabled it to run through leaf litter to chase, catch and kill its prey.

The new models reveal, for the first time, that Eophrynus prestivicii had defensive spikes on its back. The researchers say that the spikes may have been a defensive adaption by Eophrynus prestivicii, to make them a less tempting meal for the amphibians that would have recently emerged from the oceans onto land.

The study's lead author, Mr Russell Garwood, PhD student from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says:

"Our models almost bring these ancient creatures back to life and it's really exciting to be able to look at them in such detail. Our study helps build a picture of what was happening during this period early in the history of life on land. We think one creature could have responded to increasing predation from the amphibians by growing spikes, while the other responded by becoming an ambush predator, hiding away and only exposing itself when it had to come out to eat."

At present, most palaeontologists analyse fossils by splitting open a rock and looking at the creatures encased inside. This means that scientists can often only see part of the fossil and cannot explore all of the fossil's physical features.

The researchers believe their new technique could be used to re-explore previously analysed fossils to provide a much clearer picture of how ancient extinct species survived on early Earth.


For further information please contact:

Colin Smith
Press Officer
Imperial College London
Email: cd.smith@imperial.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)207 594 6712
Out of hours duty press officer: +44 (0)7803 886 248

Notes to editors:

1. *** Images and 3 D models ***

CT scanning was carried by Mr Garwood at the Natural History Museum, London, and modelling was carried out at Imperial College London. All images must be credited:

"Courtesy of the Natural History Museum and Imperial College London."

Cryptomartus hindi - video


Eophrynus prestivicii - video


Cryptomartus hindi - image


Cryptomartus hindi - image


Eophrynus prestivicii - image


Eophrynus prestivicii - image


2. "High-fidelity X-ray micro-tomography reconstruction of siderite-hosted Carboniferous arachnids", Biology Letters, Wednesday 05 August 2009.

Russell Garwood (1), Jason Dunlop (2) and Mark D. Sutton (1)
(1) Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London

(2) Museum fur Naturkunde at the Humbolt University Berlin, 10115 Berlin, Germany

3. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 13,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.

Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the UK and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.

Colin Smith | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.imperial.ac.uk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What Makes Stem Cells into Perfect Allrounders
27.06.2017 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>