Spiders surfed prehistoric web

Classic Spider Web: Spiders have been surfing the web since the age of dinosaurs. Photo courtesy Mark Ryan
Classic Spider Web: Spiders have been surfing the web since the age of dinosaurs. Photo courtesy Mark Ryan
Did you know the classic structured web that spiders use to capture their prey has been around since the days of the dinosaurs?

A new fossil discovered in Spain contains the oldest known remains of an orb web – the classic structure created by spiders and made up of concentric circles joined by radiating spokes. The web was found in a piece of amber–fossilized tree sap–dating back to the early Cretaceous period, about 110 million years ago.

The oldest known spiders were scurrying about the planet around 400 million years. And fossils of spiders are common, but fossils of their extruded silk products are very rare. The recent find, locked inside the small piece of amber, contains twenty-six web strands along with remnants of typical spider prey such as a fly, a mite and a beetle.

“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 David Grimaldi, curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Two groups of spiders, Araneoidea and Deinopoidea, produce orb webs. Both types have similar proteins in their silk, but the former entraps prey with droplets of glue on the web strands, while the latter uses a dry Velcro-like substance for the same purpose. Scientists now think the two types arose from a common ancestor and then modified their individual trapping techniques.

What this all means is that spiders and their prey-snaring methods could have driven the evolution of insects and their defenses against such methods. Moths and butterflies are members of the family Lepidoptera, and are covered in scales that allow them to roll out of gooey web traps.

“And it happens that Lepidoptera evolved around the same time that spiders produced these webs,” Grimaldi said.

Story links:
American Museum of Natural History story
New Scientist article
New York Times article

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Marjorie's picture
Marjorie says:

I really like the picture of the spider. How did you take the picture?

posted on Tue, 07/04/2006 - 9:07pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Thank you. The photo was taken on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, MN with a Nikon D70, handheld and using the camera flash.

posted on Thu, 07/06/2006 - 1:59pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Last summer, the Stone Arch Bridge was crawling with these guys. Must be a good eating spot...

posted on Thu, 07/06/2006 - 2:40pm
Catie's picture
Catie says:

What is the difference between a prehistoric and modern spider?

posted on Fri, 10/27/2006 - 9:05pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Why are lots of people afraid of spiders??

posted on Sun, 04/01/2007 - 3:20pm
nai vasha        hamilton's picture
nai vasha hamilton says:

i think its because they are hairy and has 8 legs and their just nasty!!!!eww

posted on Sun, 04/01/2007 - 4:49pm
bertha's picture
bertha says:

because they move faster than us......and are creapy!!

posted on Sun, 04/01/2007 - 5:57pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

they are not nasty you just need to learn more about them !

posted on Sat, 09/08/2007 - 8:53pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

At school, kids were telling me about a hawk eating spider. Does that really exist?

posted on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 6:13am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A spider probably couldn't catch a hawk and eat it unless the hawk was sick or injured first. And the vast majority of spiders are much, much too small to eat anything even close to the size of a songbird, much less a hawk.

But we've written about BIG spiders here on Buzz before, including photos of this giant one eating a chicken!

posted on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 9:38am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

look it up on the internet

posted on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 9:37am

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