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EarthSky // Today's Image Release Date: Mar 17, 2013

100-million-year-old spider attack

The only fossil ever discovered of a spider attack on prey caught in its web – a 100 million-year-old snapshot of an engagement caught in amber.

The extraordinarily rare fossils are in a piece of amber that preserved this event in remarkable detail. This spider happened in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar in the Early Cretaceous – between 97-110 million years ago – almost certainly with dinosaurs wandering nearby.

George Poinar, Jr., is a professor emeritus of zoology at Oregon State University and world expert on insects trapped in amber. He outlined the findings in a study published in the journal Historical Biology. Poinar said:

This was a male wasp that suddenly found itself trapped in a spider web. This was the wasp’s worst nightmare, and it never ended. The wasp was watching the spider just as it was about to be attacked, when tree resin flowed over and captured both of them.

The tree resin that forms amber is renowned for its ability to flow over insects, small plants and other life forms, preserving them in near perfection before it later turns into a semi-precious stone. It often gives scientists a look into the biology of the distant past. This spider, which may have been waiting patiently for hours to capture some prey, was smothered in resin just a split second before its attack.

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