Plants and Animals

Ancient Spider-Like Predator Resurrected

July 9, 2014 | by Janet Fang

Photo credit: The trigonotarbid was one of the first predators on land / Garwood/Dunlop

A 410-million-year-old arachnid crawls back to life in this video made by scientists based on fossil remains from one of the first predators on land.

The extinct trigonotarbid was a widespread, ancient relative of spiders. “When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain,” says Russell Garwood from the University of Manchester in a news release

They lived about 300-400 million years ago, and the joints in their legs have been well-preserved in thin slivers of rock called Rhynie chert. These fossils are currently housed at the Natural History Museum in London. 

To recreate the creature’s gait, Garwood and colleagues looked to those thin slices of rock showing the animal's cross-section, which allowed them to work out the range of motion in its limbs. They combined those details with comparisons to leg structure of living arachnids, and then used an open source computer graphics program called Blender to animate its crawl.

The work was published in a special issue of the Journal of Paleontology this week about 3D visualization and fossil analyses. Watch trigonotarbid prowl again here:

“What’s really exciting here is that scientists themselves can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry -- and immense costs -- of a Jurassic Park-style film,” says study coauthor Jason Dunlop of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. “When I started working on fossil arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like; now we can view them running across our computer screens.”

Images: Garwood/Dunlop

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