Scientists have identified a fossil of a new species of “giant spider” that lived in what is now Australia between 11 and 16 million years ago. The spider was found at McGraths Flat, New South Wales, a famous fossil site famous for an iron-rich rock called “goethite.”
The species is named Megamonodontium mccluskyi. This discovery, published in the journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, represents the first fossil of a spider in the family Barychelidae. It is similar to gender Monodontium (known as the brush spider), but it is five times larger, measuring about 50 mm from tip to tip.
This finding is especially important because of the limited number of fossil spiders discovered in Australia, according to experts, including those in the Australian Museum.
“In the entire continent, we have found only four spider fossils. This makes it difficult to understand their evolution,” said paleontologist Matthew McCurry of the University of New South Wales. “Therefore, this search reveals valuable information about the extinction of the spider and closes the gap in our knowledge of the past,” added Dr. McCurry.
The fossil, which now resides in the Australian Museum’s palaeontological collection, also provides clues to the conditions in which this “giant” spider lived millions of years ago. “This fossil’s closest living relative is found in humid forests from Singapore to Papua New Guinea,” McCurry explained. “This shows that this group lived in similar environments to mainland Australia, but became extinct as the continent became drier.”
It is thought that Megamonodontium mccluskyi This is the largest spider fossil ever discovered in Australia. “This is not only the largest spider fossil found in Australia, but it is also the first fossil of the Barychelidae family known in the world,” said arachnologist Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum.
“Currently, there are about 300 species of brush-footed trapdoor spiders. However, they rarely fossilize, probably because they spend most of their time in burrows, which keeps them away from good conditions for fossilization,” added Dr. Raven.
Microscopic examinations of the fossils at McGraths Flat have revealed an impressive level of detailed preservation. Using advanced microscopy techniques, the researchers were able to closely study the claws and hair-like structures on the spider’s body and legs, called setae. These setae “can detect chemicals and vibrations, protect the spider from threats, and even produce sounds,” the scientists say.