Imaging technology reveals intricate details of 49 million-year-old spider

May 18, 2011

Scientists have used the latest computer-imaging technology to produce stunning three-dimensional pictures of a 49 million-year-old spider trapped inside an opaque piece of fossilized amber resin.

University of Manchester researchers, working with colleagues in Germany, created the intricate images using X-ray computed tomography to study the remarkable spider, which can barely be seen under the in the old and darkened amber.

Writing in the international journal Naturwissenschaften, the scientists showed that the amber – housed in the Berlin Natural History Museum – is a member of a living genus of the Huntsman spiders (Sparassidae), a group of often large, active, free-living spiders that are hardly ever trapped in amber.

As well as documenting the oldest ever huntsman spider, especially through a short film revealing astounding details, the scientists showed that even specimens in historical pieces of amber, which at first look very bad, can yield vital data when studied by computed tomography. 

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“More than 1,000 species of fossil spider have been described, many of them from amber,” said Dr. David Penney, from Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences. “The best-known source is Baltic amber which is about 49 million years old, and which has been actively studied for over 150 years.

“Indeed, some of the first fossil spiders to be described back in 1854 were from the historically significant collection of Georg Karl Berendt, which is held in the Berlin Natural History museum. A problem here is that these old, historical amber pieces have reacted with oxygen over time and are now often dark or cracked, making it hard to see the animal specimens inside.”

Berendt’s amber specimens were supposed to include the oldest example of a so-called Huntsman spider but this seemed strange as huntsman spiders are strong, quick animals that would be unlikely to be trapped in tree resin. To test this, an international team of experts in the fields of fossils and living spiders, and in modern techniques of computer analysis decided to re-study Georg Berendt’s original specimen and determine once and for all what it really was. 

“The results were surprising,” said Dr. Penney. “Computed produced 3D images and movies of astounding quality, which allowed us to compare the finest details of the amber fossil with similar-looking living spiders.

Imaging technology reveals intricate details of 49-million-year-old spider
This is Eusprassus crassipes, a fossil huntsman spider in almost 50 million-year-old Baltic amber, as it appears under the microscope. Credit: A. McNeal, University of Manchester

“We were able to show that the fossil is unquestionably a Huntsman spider and belongs to a genus called Eusparassus, which lives in the tropics and also arid regions of southern Europe today, but evidently lived in central Europe 50 million years ago.

“The research is particularly exciting because our results show that this method works and that other scientifically important specimens in historical pieces of darkened amber can be investigated and compared to their living relatives in the same way.”

Professor Philip Withers, who established the Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility – a unique suite of 3D X-ray imagers covering scales from a metre to 50nm – within Manchester’s School of Materials, added: “Normally such fossils are really hard to detect because the contrast against the is low but with phase contrast imaging the spiders really jump out at you in 3D. Usually you have to go to a synchrotron X-ray facility to get good phase contrast, but we can get excellent phase contrast in the lab. This is really exciting because it opens up the embedded fossil archive not just in ambers.”

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More information: The paper, Dunlop, J. A., et al. ‘Computed tomography recovers data from historical amber: an example from huntsman spiders,’ published in Naturwissenschaften, is available on request.

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User comments : 16

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Physmet
5 / 5 (2) May 18, 2011
Wow, that imaging is impressive.
KillerKopy
2.3 / 5 (3) May 18, 2011
How can anyone really know something is 40 million years old?
antialias
5 / 5 (3) May 18, 2011
There's basically two ways:

Stratigraphic dating: If you know how old the layer of sediment is in which you found the specimen then you know how old the specimen is.

Radiometric dating (mostly used for plants): Most common is C14 Dating (for stuff up to around 60000 years old). Specimens incoroprate radioactive C14 isotopes into their structure at the same concentration as found in the environment. After death that fraction of radioactive C14 drops as some decays. By analysing how much less C14 there is than there should be one can estimate the age (caveat: the assumption is that radioactive C14 prevalence is fairly constant over the ages - which is has not... but there are methods to take that into account)
KillerKopy
2 / 5 (4) May 18, 2011
I agree with the c14 dating. But where I wonder its when they date the ground levels with the bones and the bones with the ground levels. I've never really gotten a straight answer on how they know something is millions of years old. Even though I do think some things are that old. I just don't think anyone really knows.
MrPhysOrg
not rated yet May 18, 2011
Typically, the only radioactive isotope in amber is C14, which is not useful for measuring 40my times, so I think it will be by association with surrounding deposits. Not sure what deposits or what isotopes were used here, but you can guess that a nice round number like that has a bit of uncertainty. So older than 30my and younger than 50my is probably safe in this case.
eachus
5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2011
There are other isotope ratios than C14/C12, but the newest dating method is to look at tracks from cosmic rays and radioisotopes in the material itself. By counting tracks from P40 decay, you can accurately date most organic material beyond the reach of C14. (C14 is useless beyond twenty thousand years or so. P40 decay can work into the millions of years.)
retrosurf
3 / 5 (6) May 19, 2011
I agree with the c14 dating. But ... I just don't think anyone really knows.


There's no way *you* will ever know. Your interest is too casual. You're not seeking a degree in science. You're not
seeking tenure.

There are people who have devoted their lives to the science;
who have gotten masters degrees and doctorates, who have
absorbed the field and then expanded its edge, who are
relatively certain that they've spent their life fruitfully
and truthfully.

These people have been judged by their peers as having made an
honest effort at it, and they have been judged to have made a
valuable contribution.

These results have already been questioned and peer reviewed
by your betters, as far as the science is concerned. If you
want to argue theology, then argue theology. But don't pretend
that it's science.
plasticpower
not rated yet May 19, 2011
Highly impressive imagery!
MarkyMark
not rated yet May 19, 2011
I agree with the c14 dating. But ... I just don't think anyone really knows.


There's no way *you* will ever know. Your interest is too casual. You're not seeking a degree in science. You're not
seeking tenure.

There are people who have devoted their lives to the science;
who have gotten masters degrees and doctorates, who have
absorbed the field and then expanded its edge, who are
relatively certain that they've spent their life fruitfully
and truthfully.

These people have been judged by their peers as having made an
honest effort at it, and they have been judged to have made a
valuable contribution.

These results have already been questioned and peer reviewed
by your betters, as far as the science is concerned. If you
want to argue theology, then argue theology. But don't pretend
that it's science.

Where in his posts did he argue theology? It seems his question was genuine.
KillerKopy
1 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2011
Really it was just a question , I didn't know I needed a degree and needed to be vetted to ask an honest question about something. I was unaware that the case was closed on all science ever peer reviewed by anyone smarter than I. I can find virtually nothing on p 40 decay.
Ethelred
not rated yet Jun 12, 2011
There's no way *you* will ever know. Your interest is too casual. You're not seeking a degree in science. You're not
seeking tenure.
That is complete rubbish. If he really wants to know he can find out more than enough to understand it in as little as a few hours depending on how much background he has. There is no need to understand all the details and the quantum mechanics.

It is unlikely that he really wants to know but your post was rather offensive. To ME and I do understand this stuff without a degree. Science is not unattainable nor incomprehensible except to the anointed wearing white lab coats with magic sheepskins.

KillerKopy seems to be a Creationist and has making disingenuous posts lately. But that is no excuse for that bullying post of yours. If you don't want to use reason and evidence than do the rest of us a favor and don't bother posting.

Ethelred
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2011
Some information on dating.

http://en.wikiped...c_dating

http://archserve....ing.html

http://anthro.pal...me_4.htm

http://anthro.pal...me_5.htm

Massive article on amber

http://www.scribd...#page=48

Christian site on Evolution - dating page
http://www.proof-...ods.html

I have seen a people claiming to be asking honest questions many times before and they have usually been dishonest Creationists that knew exactly what they were to get away with. It took me whole seconds to find sites on potassium dating which brings into question your claim of not being able to do so.

Ethelred
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2011
And just for the heck of it here is a stupefying set of blatant lies from a Creationist. In just 31 seconds. Not one word truth.

http://pandasthum...ing.html

On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch flagged a recent interview [David] Barton gave with an evangelcial talk show, in which he argues that the Founding Fathers had explicitly rejected Charles Darwins theory of evolution. Yes, that Darwin. The one whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, wasnt even published until 1859. Barton declared, As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, theyd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying youve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that! Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born.


How could anyone be that astounding ignorant and still move their legs.

Ethelred
KillerKopy
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2011
Fellas, dang no need to jump to conclusions about everyone and everything. I really don't know why it matters what my faith is. The reason I couldn't find anything on P40 decay is because its K40 decay (potassium). I always keen an open mind and try to read as much as I can and love to read things without staring with a bias. I really do wonder how old the earth is. I have never proclaimed it to be any age. You guys can stop acting as if I'm in the minority for beveling in God.

Religions:

Christian 33.32% (of which Roman Catholic 16.99%, Protestant 5.78%, Orthodox 3.53%, Anglican 1.25%), Muslim 21.01%, Hindu 13.26%, Buddhist 5.84%, Sikh 0.35%, Jewish 0.23%, Baha'i 0.12%, other religions 11.78%, non-religious 11.77%, atheists 2.32% (2007 est.)

Info from
CIA World Factbook
http://WWW.CIA.GOV

Belief in God is not a contradiction to science. The only reason I brought this up was really to try and understand a different opinion then my own.

Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2011
I really don't know why it matters what my faith is.
Try reading posts from Kevin, Argon, or Freethinking and you will see just how much faith can distort reason.

The reason I couldn't find anything on P40 decay is because its K40 decay (potassium).
I found it right away while using 'potassium'.

I really do wonder how old the earth is.
4.5 billion years old is the usual estimate. There are rocks that have been dated to 3.8 billions years old. If the theory that the Moon was formed by a late collision of a Mars sized object with the Earth is correct it is unlikely that there is any rock left from before the collision. However asteroids consistently date to around 4.5 billion years old.

You guys can stop acting as if I'm in the minority for beveling in God.
Only on this site. Majority of people on Earth do believe in things that aren't by supported by any evidence.>>
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Jun 30, 2011
Belief in God is not a contradiction to science.
Depends on the belief. Nearly all Muslims have beliefs that contradict reality. 50 percent of Americans actually believe in a Flood that never happened.

Belief in a god does not REQUIRE people to believe in fantasies about science but many versions of belief in a god do exactly that. Everyone that believes that world is young and there is no evolution have beliefs that are contrary to science. Which is almost all Muslims and a rather high percentage of Christians and Jews.

In the past people have murdered for disagreeing with religions on this and Muslims are still doing that in some areas of the world. This tends to makes some unbelievers a bit touchy on the subject. Survival is sometimes involved.

Ethelred