A Silurian sea spider

Nature. 2004 Oct 21;431(7011):978-80. doi: 10.1038/nature02928.


Pycnogonids (sea spiders) are marine arthropods numbering some 1,160 extant species. They are globally distributed in depths of up to 6,000 metres, and locally abundant; however, their typically delicate form and non-biomineralized cuticle has resulted in an extremely sparse fossil record that is not accepted universally. There are two opposing views of their phylogenetic position: either within Chelicerata as sister group to the euchelicerates, or as a sister taxon to all other euarthropods. The Silurian Herefordshire Konservat-Lagerstatte in England (approximately 425 million years (Myr) bp) yields exceptionally preserved three-dimensional fossils that provide unrivalled insights into the palaeobiology of a variety of invertebrates. The fossils are preserved as calcitic void in-fills in carbonate concretions within a volcaniclastic horizon, and are reconstructed digitally. Here we describe a new pycnogonid from this deposit, which is the oldest adult sea spider by approximately 35 Myr and the most completely known fossil species. The large chelate first appendage is consistent with a chelicerate affinity for the pycnogonids. Cladistic analyses place the new species near the base of the pycnogonid crown group, implying that the latter had arisen by the Silurian period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / anatomy & histology*
  • Arthropods / classification
  • England
  • Fossils*
  • Male
  • Marine Biology
  • Phylogeny
  • Time Factors