December 15, 2008

World’s Oldest Spider Web Discovered In Britain

An Oxford University researcher reported Monday the discovery of the world's oldest spider web.  An amateur fossil-hunter searching the beaches of England's south coast discovered the web's tiny twisted threads encased in an ancient piece of amber, or fossilized tree resin, nearly two years ago.

Paleobiologist Martin Brasier said the 140-million-year-old web is proof that arachnids have been around since the time of the dinosaur.

He noted that the threads were linked to each other in the same nearly circular pattern seen in gardens throughout the world.

"You can match the details of the spider's web with the spider's web in my garden," he said.

A microscope revealed miniscule threads about 1/20th of an inch long among bits of burnt sap and fossilized vegetable matter.

Although not as spectacular as a fully preserved net of spider silk, the tiny strands show that spiders had been spinning circular webs well into prehistoric times, said Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleobiologist who did not take part in the discovery.

"It's not a striking, perfect web," Braddy told the AP.

"(But) this seems to confirm that spiders were building orb webs back in the early Cretaceous," he said, referring to the geological name for the time period between 65.5 and 145.5 million years ago.  

However, spider experts believe the webs were developed even earlier, despite the fact they rarely leave any trace.   Amber can occasionally conserve parts of web, and Brasier said an earlier find in Lebanon was dated to 130 million years ago.


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