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‘Staring at me:’ Oldest known spider ancestor found in Burgess Shales

Alberta’s famed Burgess Shales have yielded another ground-breaking fossil find — this time the oldest known ancestor of today’s spiders and scorpions.

Two scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum pried loose the well-preserved 500-million-year-old fossil from the area’s abundant deposits.

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They describe the thumb-sized beastie as a fierce predator, equipped with tiny pincers in front of its mouth to grab, kill and eat its prey.

The underside of this modern-day horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, also known as the Atlantic horseshoe crab, shows its pincer type chelicerae at the top of the photos. In the lower half of the photo, a section of book gills can be seen by lifting its ridged protective flaps called opercula. Opercula are absent in Mollisonia and therefore represent a further step in the evolution of chelicerates. Alberta’s famed Burgess Shales have yielded another ground-breaking fossil find — this time the oldest known ancestor of today’s spiders and scorpions.

The underside of this modern-day horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, also known as the Atlantic horseshoe crab, shows its pincer type chelicerae at the top of the photos. In the lower half of the photo, a section of book gills can be seen by lifting its ridged protective flaps called opercula. Opercula are absent in Mollisonia and therefore represent a further step in the evolution of chelicerates. Alberta’s famed Burgess Shales have yielded another ground-breaking fossil find — this time the oldest known ancestor of today’s spiders and scorpions.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-© Royal Ontario Museum- Brian Boyle

It’s those pincers that put it at the root of a family tree that now boasts more than 115,000 different species.

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The preservation and detail in the fossil allowed the researchers to definitively link it to modern animals.

Paleontologist Jean-Bernard Caron says they found the specimen when the reflective minerals that replaced its eyes blinked at them from the rock.

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