Biology

Falsified "giant spider" fossil is actually an altered crayfish

Falsified "giant spider" fossi...
Although this fossil may look like that of a spider ... it isn't
Although this fossil may look like that of a spider ... it isn't
View 2 Images
Although this fossil may look like that of a spider ... it isn't
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Although this fossil may look like that of a spider ... it isn't
Image A shows a mosaic of parts of the specimen as seen under fluorescence microscopy, while Image B specifically highlights cracks, cemented areas (grey), and painted parts (brown)
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Image A shows a mosaic of parts of the specimen as seen under fluorescence microscopy, while Image B specifically highlights cracks, cemented areas (grey), and painted parts (brown)

Earlier this year, many squeamish people were understandably freaked out by the discovery of what was claimed to be the fossilized remains of a disturbingly-big spider. Now, however, it turns out that the "spider" is actually a crayfish with extra legs painted on.

The remains were initially discovered in northeast China's Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation, by fossil hunters who lived nearby. They sold their find to scientists at the Dalian Natural History Museum, located in the province of Liaoning. Those researchers proceeded to publish a scientific paper on the fossil, naming the spider Mongolarachne chaoyangensis, and declaring it to be a species previously unknown to science.

Scientists in Beijing had their doubts, though. Not only was the so-called spider suspiciously large – with a main body length of about 35 mm (1.4 in) – but it also looked rather odd.

They proceeded to borrow the fossil from its current home at China's Southern University of Science and Technology, after which they sent it to Prof. Paul Selden at The University of Kansas. Selden specializes in the study of spider fossils.

"Immediately, I realized there was something wrong with it – it clearly wasn’t a spider," he says. "It was missing various parts, had too many segments in its legs, and huge eyes. I puzzled and puzzled over it until my colleague in Beijing, Chungkun Shih, said, 'Well, you know, there’s quite a lot of crayfish in this particular locality. Maybe it’s one of those.'"

Image A shows a mosaic of parts of the specimen as seen under fluorescence microscopy, while Image B specifically highlights cracks, cemented areas (grey), and painted parts (brown)
Image A shows a mosaic of parts of the specimen as seen under fluorescence microscopy, while Image B specifically highlights cracks, cemented areas (grey), and painted parts (brown)

Utilizing a technique known as fluorescence microscopy, Selden and colleagues were subsequently able to distinguish between the original fossil – which was indeed a "badly preserved" crayfish – and some extra painted-on legs. And while Selden states that it's not unusual to come across doctored fossils for sale to tourists, it's considerably less common to see academics being taken in by them.

His findings are described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Paleontology.

Source: The University of Kansas

3 comments
f8lee
Uh-oh - I can see this opening the door to Creationists (or are they Intelligent design theorists? I can't recall) claiming this proves how all the alleged "proof" of evolution are just more painted fakes!
dls
Not surprising, some governments or employers require scientists to publish. There have been many retractions, mainly from 3rd world countries, but also from unethical scientists in non-3rd world countries. Peer-review should have caught this wild claim. Be careful of the source of information!
MQ
dls: Peer review is supposed to happen before publication (review is a pre-publication process).. The system is broken due to Cronyism and lack of access to raw data.