October 10, 2017 at 3:49 pm

Hembree Finds Key To Identifying Spider Burrows in Fossil Record

Daniel Hembree

Dr. Daniel Hembree, Associate Professor of Geological Sciences, recently published “Neoichnology of tarantulas (Araneae: Theraphosidae): criteria for recognizing spider burrows in the fossil record” in the open access journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

For this study, Hembree used laboratory experiments with three types of living tarantulas to construct burrows that he then described and compared to burrows of other large, terrestrial animals. This work is significant because large-bodied, ground-dwelling spiders similar to tarantulas (mygalomorphs) appear in the fossil record approximately 240 million years ago, but their fossils are rarer than those of other, younger groups of spiders.

Modern mygalomorph spiders, especially tarantulas, are prolific burrowers, suggesting that their fossil burrows may be quite common. However, prior to this study scientists lacked sufficient data about the size and shape of large spider burrows to confidently identify them in the rock record.

Hembree’s research helps to overcome these obstacles by increasing understanding of the diagnostic characteristics of those burrows and how to distinguish them from burrows of other terrestrial animals. The results of these types of experimental studies can be used to better understand the evolutionary history of animals not normally preserved in the fossil record and the composition of ancient soil ecosystems.

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