16-Million-Year-Old Spider Fossil Is The Largest Ever Found In Australia

Conny Waters - AncientPages.com - Found at McGraths Flat, NSW, a fossil site known for its iron-rich rock called "goethite," the new genus of spider is the first ever spider fossil of the Barychelidae family to be found.

The discovery was made by a team of Australian scientists led by Australian Museum (AM) and University of New South Wales (UNSW) paleontologist Dr. Matthew McCurry have formally named and described a fossil spider, Megamonodontium mccluskyi, which is between 11–16 million years old.

16-Million-Year-Old Spider Fossil Is The Largest Ever Found In Australia

Credit: Australian Museum

Similar to the living genus, Monodontium (a brushed trapdoor spider) but five times larger, the spider was named after Dr. Simon McClusky who found the specimen. A geospatial scientist based in Canberra, McClusky volunteers his time helping on palaeontological excavations.

" Megamonodontium differs from its putative sister genus, Monodontium, in having the carapace shape asymmetrical around the midpoint, with the widest point in the posterior third; Monodontium has the carapace asymmetrical around the midpoint ; it is also about five times the size of known Monodontium (10 vs. 2 mm)," the research team writes in the study.

Dr. McCurry said that there have been very few fossil spiders found in Australia which makes the discovery very significant.

"Only four spider fossils have ever been found throughout the whole continent, which has made it difficult for scientists to understand their evolutionary history. That is why this discovery is so significant, it reveals new information about the extinction of spiders and fills a gap in our understanding of the past."

"The closest living relative of this fossil now lives in wet forests in Singapore through to Papua New Guinea. This suggests that the group once occupied similar environments in mainland Australia but have subsequently gone extinct as Australia became more arid."

Queensland Museum arachnologist, Dr. Robert Raven, who was the supervising author of the study said this was the largest fossil spider to be found in Australia.

"Not only is it the largest fossilized spider to be found in Australia but it is the first fossil of the family Barychelidae that has been found worldwide."

"There are around 300 species of brush-footed trapdoor spiders alive today, but they don't seem to become fossils very often. This could be because they spend so much time inside burrows and so aren't in the right environment to be fossilized."

University of Canberra Associate Professor, Michael Frese, who used stacking microphotography to scan the fossils said that the fossils from McGraths Flat show an amazing level of detailed preservation.

16-Million-Year-Old Spider Fossil Is The Largest Ever Found In Australia

Credit: Australian Museum

"Scanning electron microscopy allowed us to study minute details of the claws and setae on the spider's pedipalps, legs and the main body. Setae are hair-like structures that can have a range of functions. They can sense chemicals and vibrations, defend the spider against attackers and even make sounds."

The fossil is now housed in the AM's paleontology collection and is available online for researchers to study.

The study was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 

Written by Conny Waters – AncientPages.com Staff Writer