Science Current Events | Science News |

Hi-tech scans catch prehistoric mite hitching ride on spider

November 09, 2011

Scientists have produced amazing three-dimensional images of a prehistoric mite as it hitched a ride on the back of a 50 million-year-old spider.

At just 176 micrometres long and barely visible to the naked eye, University of Manchester researchers and colleagues in Berlin believe the mite, trapped inside Baltic amber (fossil tree resin), is the smallest arthropod fossil ever to be scanned using X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning techniques.

They say their study - published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters today (Wednesday, 9 November) - also sets a minimum age of almost 50 million years for the evolution among these mites of phoretic, or hitchhiking, behaviour using another animal species.

"CT allowed us to digitally dissect the mite off the spider in order to reveal the important features on the underside of the mite required for identification," said Dr David Penney, one of the study's authors based in the Faculty of Life Sciences. "The specimen, which is extremely rare in the fossil record, is potentially the oldest record of the living family Histiostomatidae.

"Amber is a remarkable repository of ecological associations within the fossil record. In many cases organisms died instantaneously and were preserved with lifelike fidelity, still enacting their behaviour immediately prior to their unexpected demise. We often refer to this as 'frozen behaviour' or palaeoethology and such examples can tell us a great deal about interactions in ecosystems of the past. However, most amber fossils consist of individual insects or several insects together but without unequivocal demonstrable evidence of direct interaction. The remarkable specimen we describe in this paper is the kind of find that occurs only once in say a hundred thousand specimens."

Fellow Manchester biologist Dr Richard Preziosi said: "Phoresy is where one organism uses another animal of a different species for transportation to a new environment. Such behaviour is common in several different groups today. The study of fossils such as the one we described can provide important clues as to how far back in geological time such behaviours evolved. The fact that we now have technology that was unavailable just a few years ago means we can now use a multidisciplinary approach to extract the most information possible from such tiny and awkwardly positioned fossils, which previously would have yielded little or no substantial scientific data."

Co-author Professor Phil Withers, from Manchester's School of Materials, said: "We believe this to be the smallest amber inclusion scanned anywhere to date. With our sub-micron phase contrast system we can obtain fantastic 3D images and compete with synchrotron x-ray systems and are revealing fossils previously inaccessible to imaging. With our nanoCT lab systems, we are now looking to push the boundaries of this technique yet further."

Dr Jason Dunlop, from the Humboldt University, Berlin, added: "As everyone knows, mites are usually very small animals, and even living ones are difficult to work with. Fossil mites are especially rare and the particular group to which this remarkable new amber specimen belongs has only been found a handful of times in the fossil record. Yet thanks to these new techniques, we could identify numerous important features as if we were looking at a modern animal under the scanning electron microscope. Work like this is breaking down the barriers between palaeontology and zoology even further."

University of Manchester

Related Fossil Record Current Events and Fossil Record News Articles

Antarctic fossils reveal creatures weren't safer in the south during dinosaur extinction
A study of more than 6,000 marine fossils from the Antarctic shows that the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs was sudden and just as deadly to life in the polar regions.

New horned dinosaur species with 'spiked shield' identified by Canadian Museum of Nature
A chance fossil discovery in Montana a decade ago has led to the identification of an audacious new species of horned dinosaur.

Rice-led study offers new answer to why Earth's atmosphere became oxygenated
Earth scientists from Rice University, Yale University and the University of Tokyo are offering a new answer to the long-standing question of how our planet acquired its oxygenated atmosphere.

New species from the Pliocene of Tibet reveals origin of ice age mountain sheep
Modern wild sheep, Ovis, is widespread in the mountain ranges of the Caucasus through Himalaya, Tibetan Plateau, Tianshan-Altai, eastern Siberia, and the Rocky Mountains in North America.

Sonic hedgehog gene provides evidence that our limbs may have evolved from sharks' gills
Latest analysis shows that human limbs share a genetic programme with the gills of cartilaginous fishes such as sharks and skates, providing evidence to support a century-old theory on the origin of limbs that had been widely discounted.

How to survive extinction: Live fast, die young
Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, a series of Siberian volcanoes erupted and sent the Earth into the greatest mass extinction of all time.

An ancient killer: Ancestral malarial organisms traced to age of dinosaurs
A new analysis of the prehistoric origin of malaria suggests that it evolved in insects at least 100 million years ago, and the first vertebrate hosts of this disease were probably reptiles, which at that time would have included the dinosaurs.

Many species now going extinct may vanish without a fossil trace
Scientists struggle to compare the magnitude of Earth's ongoing sixth mass-extinction event with the five great die-offs of prehistory.

Ancient lone star lizard lounged in lush, tropical Texas
Researchers have discovered a new species of extinct worm lizard in Texas and dubbed it the "Lone Star" lizard.

500 million-year-old fossils show how extinct organisms attacked their prey
The Cambrian Period, which occurred between 541 million and 485 million years ago, is an important point in evolutionary history where most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record.
More Fossil Record Current Events and Fossil Record News Articles

The Fossil Record

The Fossil Record
by John D Morris (Author), Frank J Sherwin (Author)

Evolutionists rely on the fossil record for support of their theory, but what does that record really reveal? ICR geologist Dr. John Morris and zoologist Frank Sherwin unearth the evidence of earth's history and conclude that the fossil record is incompatible with evolution, but remarkably consistent with the biblical account of creation and the great Flood of Noah's day.

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
by Brian Switek (Author)

“Switek seamlessly intertwines two types of evolution: one of life on earth and the other of paleontology itself.”—Discover Magazine““In delightful prose, [Switek] . . . superbly shows that ‘[i]f we can let go of our conceit,’ we will see the preciousness of life in all its forms.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Highly instructive . . . a warm, intelligent yeoman’s guide to the progress of life.”—Kirkus Reviews“Magisterial . . . part historical account, part scientific detective story. Switek’s elegant prose and thoughtful scholarship will change the way you see life on our planet. This book marks the debut of an important new voice.”—Neil Shubin“Elegantly and engagingly crafted, Brian Switek’s narrative interweaves stories and characters not often...

Species and Speciation in the Fossil Record

Species and Speciation in the Fossil Record
by Warren D. Allmon (Editor), Margaret M. Yacobucci (Editor)

Although the species is one of the fundamental units of biological classification, there is remarkably little consensus among biologists about what defines a species, even within distinct sub-disciplines. The literature of paleobiology, in particular, is littered with qualifiers and cautions about applying the term to the fossil record or equating such species with those recognized among living organisms. In Species and Speciation in the Fossil Record, experts in the field examine how they conceive of species of fossil animals and consider the implications these different approaches have for thinking about species in the context of macroevolution.

After outlining views of the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary disciplines and detailing the development within paleobiology of...

Avian Evolution: The Fossil Record of Birds and its Paleobiological Significance (TOPA Topics in Paleobiology)

Avian Evolution: The Fossil Record of Birds and its Paleobiological Significance (TOPA Topics in Paleobiology)
by Gerald Mayr (Author)

Knowledge of the evolutionary history of birds has much improved in recent decades. Fossils from critical time periods are being described at unprecedented rates and modern phylogenetic analyses have provided a framework for the interrelationships of the extant groups. This book gives an overview of the avian fossil record and its paleobiological significance, and it is the only up-to-date textbook that covers both Mesozoic and more modern-type Cenozoic birds in some detail. The reader is introduced to key features of basal avians and the morphological transformations that have occurred in the evolution towards modern birds. An account of the Cenozoic fossil record sheds light on the biogeographic history of the extant avian groups and discusses fossils in the context of current...

Break the Fossil Record (Ivy + Bean, Book 3)

Break the Fossil Record (Ivy + Bean, Book 3)
by Annie Barrows (Author), Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)

World-record fever grips the second grade, and soon Ivy and Bean are trying to set their own record by becoming the youngest people to have ever discovered a dinosaur. But how hard is it to find one?

Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record

Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record
by Michael Benton (Author), David A. T. Harper (Author)

This book presents a comprehensive overview of the science of the history of life. Paleobiologists bring many analytical tools to bear in interpreting the fossil record and the book introduces the latest techniques, from multivariate investigations of biogeography and biostratigraphy to engineering analysis of dinosaur skulls, and from homeobox genes to cladistics.
All the well-known fossil groups are included, including microfossils and invertebrates, but an important feature is the thorough coverage of plants, vertebrates and trace fossils together with discussion of the origins of both life and the metazoans. All key related subjects are introduced, such as systematics, ecology, evolution and development, stratigraphy and their roles in understanding where life came from and...

The Trace-Fossil Record of Major Evolutionary Events: Volume 1: Precambrian and Paleozoic (Topics in Geobiology)

The Trace-Fossil Record of Major Evolutionary Events: Volume 1: Precambrian and Paleozoic (Topics in Geobiology)
by M. Gabriela Mángano (Editor), Luis A. Buatois (Editor)

This volume addresses major evolutionary changes that took place during the Ediacaran and the Paleozoic. These include discussions on the nature of Ediacaran ecosystems, as well as the ichnologic signature of evolutionary radiations, such as the Cambrian explosion and the Great Ordovician biodiversification event, the invasion of the land, and the end-Permian mass extinction.This volume set provides innovative reviews of the major evolutionary events in the history of life from an ichnologic perspective. Because the long temporal range of trace fossils has been commonly emphasized, biogenic structures have been traditionally overlooked in macroevolution. However, comparisons of ichnofaunas through geologic time do reveal the changing ecology of organism-substrate interactions. The use of...

Systematics and the Fossil Record: Documenting Evolutionary Patterns

Systematics and the Fossil Record: Documenting Evolutionary Patterns
by Andrew B. Smith (Author)

This new text sets out to establish the key role played by systematics in deciphering patterns of evolution from the fossil record. It begins by considering the nature of the species in the fossil record and then outlines recent advances in the methodology used to establish phylogenetics relationships, stressing why fossil evidence can be crucial. The way species are grouped into higher taxa, and how this affects their utility in evolutionary studies is also discussed. Because the fossil record abounds with sampling and preservational biases, the book emphasizes that observed patterns can rarely be taken at face value. It is argued that evolutionary trees, constructed from combining phylogenetic and biostratigraphic data, provide the best approach for investigating patterns of evolution...

Human Origins: The Fossil Record

Human Origins: The Fossil Record
by Clark Spencer Larsen (Author), Robert M. Matter (Author), Daniel L. Gebo (Author)

This updated, illustrated guide to the fossil record of human evolution brings together for easy reference, in one source, all the major finds of fossil hominoids and hominids. An essential source in physical anthropology classrooms and laboratories. 1. Introduction 2. Dawn Apes: Oligocene and Miocene Hominoids 3. Australopithecus: Pliocene-Pleistocene Hominids 4. Homo Habilis: Pliocene-Pleistocene Hominids 5. Homo Erectus: Pleistocene Hominids 6. Early Archaic Homo Sapiens: Middle Pleistocene Hominids 7. Late Archaic Homo Sapiens: Upper Pleistocene Hominids 8. Modern Homo Sapiens: Late Pleistocene-Holocene Hominids

Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record

Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record
by Duane T. Gish (Author)

Paperback: 277 pages Publisher: Creation - Life Publishers (1986) Language: English ISBN-10: 0890511128 ISBN-13: 978-0890511121 ASIN: B004SWDUDA

© 2016