Ancient Mongolia spider spins web of intrigue

23rd Jan 2014

Mongolia may have unearthed a new species of spider - to the fascination of scientists and nature-loving travellers.

The rugged wilds of this landlocked central Asian country, which is bordered by Russia to the north and China everywhere else, make it an emerging destination for intrepid tourists on trekking holidays.

But a new excavation suggests today's holidaymakers on private journeys are following in the footsteps of eight-legged creatures that roamed the Earth millions of years ago.

The spider fossil was found in the Daohugou beds of Inner Mongolia.

It was discovered in the same place as the celebrated Nephila jurassica fossil three years ago.

But whereas the original remains were female, the new find is male.

Scientists were so confused by the differences between the two fossils that they have proposed a new genus named Mongolarachne, to describe the ancient insect.

Kansas University's Professor Paul Selden belongs to the crew that unearthed both fossilised spiders.

Spider fossils are uncommon due to the softness of their bodies. But this duo was discovered in volcanic deposits.

Specialists think these deposits may have buried the fossils at the bottom of a lake, preserving them perfectly.

Three years ago, the 165-million-year-old female spider was named Nephila jurassica.

The fossil boasts roughly the same dimensions of the spider's 21st-century descendants.

It has a body one-inch (2.5cm) long and more than half an inch wide (over 1.2cm), and legs that span 2.5 inches.

The females in this category are the biggest contemporary web-weaving spiders, with a maximum body length of 2 inches (5cm) and legs reaching 6 inches. Males are much smaller by contrast.

The research is published in the Naturwissenschaften journal.

Aside from basking in its isolated tranquil vibes, visitors to Mongolia can enjoy a city break to its Ulan Bator capital, where they'll find cultural sites such as Choijin Lama Monastery and its natural history museum.

Copyright Press Association 2014

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