An ancient harvestman – otherwise known as a daddy longlegs – has surely broken the record for the longest sustained erection in history, after being discovered enshrined in amber with its manhood on full display, some 99 million years after the event. The find is of particular importance as the morphology of male harvestmen’s penises provides key information about which species they belong to, and has therefore enabled researchers to identify the specimen as a member of a new, extinct family.
Identifying male harvestmen is particularly challenging since their penises are retractable, which means they are rarely on show. However, this specimen, which was found in Burmese amber and dated to the late Cretaceous period, has been preserved with its penis fully extended and perfectly in tact, providing a unique opportunity for scientists to analyze its evolutionary connection to modern harvestmen.
A description of the fossil has been published in The Science of Nature, explaining how several of the arachnid's features, such as slender legs and large, ornamented eye projections, would appear to place it within the Dyspnoi suborder. However, the morphology of the penis is unlike that of any family pertaining to this suborder, suggesting that the harvestman belonged to a previously undiscovered yet now extinct family, which has been termed Halithersidae.
The penis has been described as having a “slender, distally flattened truncus, a spatulate heart-shaped glans and a short distal stylus, twisted at the tip,” marking it out as unique within the Dyspnoi suborder. The fossil, which belongs to the species Halitherses grimaldii, is now due to be transferred to the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt.