Although the fossil record for spiders is relatively rare, scientists know they have been around since ancient times. Now, thanks to a recent fossil discovery, we know that for millions of years, their eyes have glowed in the dark, as they hunted for ancient prey.
Today, the fact that their eyes sparkle in the dark is well known. You’ve probably seen the videos in your social media feed. One sparkling spider appears to be covered in countless tiny glistening colorful diamonds. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed as the eyes of a million babies looking back at the camera.
Instead of one “nope,” this female is a million nopes in one. The creepy and alien sight would be enough to send many people running for the hills.
As mysterious and hair-raising as this is to witness, it appears this phenomenon it has gone on for millions of years. In fact, spiders with glowing eyes dating back 110 million years old have been recently been discovered at a fossil site in South Korea. They are from an extinct family called Lagonomegopidae, which had oversized glowing eyes in order to hunt for prehistoric prey at nighttime.
According to Newsweek, the fossilized spiders were discovered at a construction site. They are the first of their kind found preserved in shale. Since spiders are soft-bodied, it’s rare to find them preserved in this matter, locked in rock. More often, ancient spiders are found encased in amber, but until now, scientists didn’t know that their eyes glowed.
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) February 18, 2019
A paleontologist from Kansas University, Prof. Paul Selden, studied the fossils, which date back 110 to 113 million years ago, with his colleagues. They placed them under the light and the crescent-shaped eyes began to glow.
“Because these spiders were preserved in strange slivery flecks on dark rock, what was immediately obvious was their rather large eyes brightly marked with crescentic features,” said Selden. “I realized this must have been the tapetum—that’s a reflective structure in an inverted eye where light comes in and is reverted back into retina cells. This is unlike a straightforward eye where light goes through and doesn’t have a reflective characteristic.”
Selden explained that these extinct creatures occupied a niche that seems to have been overtaken by today’s modern jumping spiders.
“This is an extinct family of spiders that were clearly very common in the Cretaceous and were occupying niches now occupied by jumping spiders that didn’t evolve until later. But these spiders were doing things differently. Their eye structure is different from jumping spiders.”
Selden speculated that the rare fossils could have been created when the ancient spiders washed into the water, protecting them from decomposition.
“These rocks also are covered in little crustaceans and fish, so there maybe was some catastrophic event like an algal bloom that trapped them in a mucus mat and sunk them— but that’s conjecture,” he said.
Thanks to the fossil find, scientists will be able to better understand how the Lagonomegopidae spiders fit among their arachnid kin.
This isn’t the first time Paul Selden has made a significant discovery of these types of fossils. In 2011, he found the largest ever fossil of a prehistoric spider, dating back even further to 165 million years old. The spider, found in Inner Mongolia, had a six-inch leg span. Unlike the new fossils with glowing eyes, these giant spiders, which grow larger than a human hand, still exist today.
Today, the Golden Orb Weavers live in northern China. The huge females can weave webs that are five foot across made of yellow silk that glistens gold in the sunlight. Selden’s discovery helped determine that the orb weavers are among the oldest genus of spiders on the planet. They may not have creepy glowing eyes, but they do seem to create webs at just the right height to be at face level with people walking by.
Very nearly walked straight into Nephila pilepes (giant golden orb weaver). Found out later it's one of the biggest spiders in the world. pic.twitter.com/amXCKjGR55
— Benjamin Klempay (@BenjaminKlempay) January 7, 2019
See more about the fossilized spider discovery below:
For more about prehistoric spiders, check out the video below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube