The biggest known fossil spider has been found in China, a new study says.
Measuring nearly 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in length, the 165-million-year-old fossil was uncovered in 2005 by farmers in Inner Mongolia (see map)â€”a region teeming with fossils from the middle Jurassic period.
“Compared to all other spider fossils, this one is huge,” said study co-author ChungKun Shih, a visiting professor at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China.
“When I first saw it, I immediately realized that it was very unique not only because of its size, but also because the preservation was excellent,” Shih said.
Fine volcanic ash preserved the specimen’s exquisite features, such as mouthparts and hairlike structures that covered its legs, according to the study.
These features allowed scientists to classify it as Nephila jurassica, a new species in the genus Nephilaâ€”a surviving group of spiders that weave 5-foot (1.5-meter) webs of strong, golden silk. Among the largest web-weaving spiders today, these creatures can reach lengths of up to 2 inches (5 centimeters).