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17.05.2024 10:56

A remarkable spiny-legged arachnid from the coal forests of America

Dr. Gesine Steiner Pressestelle
Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung

    More than 300 million years ago, all sorts of arachnids crawled around in the Carboniferous coal forests. There were also some quite strange-looking arachnids which belonged to groups that are now long extinct. One such fossil was described in a new paper published in Journal of Paleontology, co-authored by Paul Selden from the University of Kansas and Jason Dunlop from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. Douglassarachne acanthopoda comes from the Mazon Creek locality in Illinois, USA, and is 308 million years old. This compact arachnid is characterized by its remarkably robust and spiny legs, such that it is quite unlike any other arachnid known: living or extinct.

    The Carboniferous Coal Measures are an important source of information for fossil arachnids, and represent the first time in Earth history when most of the living groups of arachnids occurred together. At the same time, the fauna was still quite different to today. Spiders were a rather rare group, only known at that time from primitive lineages, and they shared these ecosystems with various arachnids which have long since died out. Douglassarachne acanthopoda is a particularly impressive example of one of these extinct forms. The fossil’s very spiny legs are reminiscent of some modern harvestmen, but its body plan is quite different from a harvestman, or any other known arachnid group. This led the scientists to conclude that it does not belong in any of the known arachnid orders. Unfortunately, details such as the mouthparts cannot be seen, which makes it difficult to say exactly which group of arachnids are its closest relatives, but it could belong to a wider group which includes spiders, whip spiders and whip scorpions. Whatever its evolutionary affinities, these spiny arachnids appear come from a time when arachnids were experimenting with a range of different body plans. Some of these later became extinct, perhaps during the so-called ‘Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse’, a time shortly after the age of Mazon Creek when the coal forests began to fragment and die off. Or perhaps these strange arachnids clung on until the end Permian mass extinction?

    The Mazon Creek fossil locality is one of the most important windows into life in the late Carboniferous, and has produced a wide range of fascinating plants and animals. The present fossil was discovered in a clay-ironstone concretion in the 1980s by Bob Masek and later acquired by the David and Sandra Douglass Collection and displayed in their Prehistoric Life Museum. The genus name Douglassarachne acknowledges the Douglass family, who kindly donated the specimen to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for scientific study once it became apparent that it represented an undescribed species, while acanthopoda refers to the unique and characteristic spiny legs of the animal.

    Selden, P. A. & Dunlop, J.A. 2024. A remarkable spiny arachnid from the Pennsylvanian Mazon Creek Lagerstätte, Illinois. Journal of Paleontology.


    Merkmale dieser Pressemitteilung:
    Biologie, Geowissenschaften, Umwelt / Ökologie
    Forschungsergebnisse, Wissenschaftliche Publikationen



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