Rewriting Life

Reviving a 50 Million Year Old Spider

High-resolution imaging reveals the inner organs of an ancient spider fossil.

Oct 31, 2007

Scientists at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom, digitally dissected a spider trapped in amber 50 million years ago in France using a technique called very high-resolution x-ray computed tomography. Based on the technology used in medical CAT scans, it can distinguish features about the width of a human hair. That minute level of detail allowed researchers to compare the creature’s internal organs with those of living spiders, and to classify the ancient arachnid as a unique species.

“This technique essentially generates full 3-D reconstructions of minute fossils and permits digital dissection of the specimen to reveal the preservation of internal organs,” said lead scientist David Penney in a press release from the university. “This is definitely the way forward for the study of amber fossils.”

The research was published in the current edition of the journal Zootaxa.