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Huntsman Spider in Baltic Amber Imaged Using Phase Contrast X-Ray Tomography

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Uploaded on Apr 6, 2011

Computed tomography (CT) methods were applied to a problematic fossil spider (Arachnida: Araneae) from the historical Berendt collection of Eocene (ca. 44--49 Ma) Baltic amber. Original specimens of Ocypete crassipes Koch & Berendt, 1854 are in dark, oxidised amber and the published descriptions lack detail. Despite this, they were subsequently assigned to the living Pantropical genus Heteropoda Latreille, 1804; and are ostensibly the oldest records of huntsman spiders (Sparassidae) in general. Given their large size, and presumptive ability to free themselves more easily from resin, it would be surprising to find a sparassid in amber and traditional (optical) methods of study would likely have left O. crassipes as an equivocal record -- probably a nomen dubium. However phase contrast enhanced X-ray CT revealed exquisite morphological detail and thus 'saved' this historical name by revealing characters which confirm that it's a bone fide member both of Sparassidae and the subfamily Eusparassinae. We demonstrate here that CT studies facilitate taxonomic equivalence even between recent spiders and unpromising fossils described in older monographs. In our case, fine structural details such as eye arrangement, cheliceral dentition, and leg characters like a trilobaite membrane, spination and claws, allow a precise referral of this fossil to an extant genus as Eusparassus crassipes.

Video created by Andrew McNeil at the Henry Moseley X-Ray Imaging Facility.

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