Oldest Known Spider Web Discovered in Amber

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Oldest Known Spider Web Discovered in Amber

 

By Bjorn Carey, LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 22 June, 2006 ET

A spider's orb web is one of the most impressive architectural feats in nature, capturing morning dew and insect meals with equal grace.

But webbing rarely stands the test of time, especially over millions of years, and researchers have few samples of ancient web to study.

Now, scientists have found 136-million-year-old piece of amber encasing pieces of web and trapped insects that helps fill in the gaps of the origin of orb webs. The finding also indicates predatory spiders likely played a role in the evolution of flying insects.

The study is detailed in the June 23 issue of the journal Science.

Ancient amber

The hunk of amber, which was collected in Spain, contains 26 web strands with a mite, a wasp leg, and a beetle stuck to some of the thread by visible droplets of web "glue." Although these insects are extinct, their size and diversity match the type of prey caught in modern webs.

"The advanced structure of this fossilized web, along with the type of prey that the web caught, indicates that spiders have been fishing insects from the air for a very long time," said study co-author David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The amber is the oldest known example of a web with trapped insects. Although only few pieces of the web remain, the arrangement of the preserved bits strongly suggests an orb web design.

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