Researchers have used the fossils of a 410 million-year-old spider ancestor to recreate its appearance and movement in a computer generated video.

In a study published in the Journal of Paleontology, researchers from The University of Manchester and the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, have shown their best recreation of the walking gait of one of the first land predators.

The fossils, taken from Natural History Museum in London, are said to have been exceptionally preserved in a type of rock known as chert that is ideal for fossil preservation thanks to its ability to withstand weathering and geologic activity. Consisting of thin slices of rock, the fossils showed cross-sections of the ancient creature, which is an early relative of the spider. Using the computer graphics software Blender, the researchers created a 3D model of the creature and animated its movement.

“When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain,” said author Dr Russell Garwood, a palaeontologist in the University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. “They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders. Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved – all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs.”

Co-author Jason Dunlop, a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, said: “These fossils – from a rock called the Rhynie chert – are unusually well-preserved. During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life. This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked. For me, what’s really exciting here is that scientists themselves can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry – and immense costs – of a Jurassic Park-style film.”

When researchers who work on fossils start talking about Jurassic Park, I get nervous. I’m not implying that they’d take their research a step beyond the virtual and try to actually clone an ancient creature, eventually resulting in us being overrun by primeval predators. No, I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.

Source: The University of Manchester

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