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Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 17:50 GMT
Tiny spider 'digitally dissected'
The spider gives us a snapshot of ancient times

A 53-million-year-old spider has been revealed in exquisite detail by scientists from the UK and Belgium.

The ancient creepy-crawly had been trapped in amber and preserved in a lowland area around Paris, France.

The scientists reconstructed the 1mm creature's original appearance using an X-ray-based medical imaging technique.

The pictures, published in the journal Zootaxa, "digitally dissect" the tiny spider to expose amazing details such as the preservation of internal organs.

"This is definitely the way forward for the study of amber fossils," said David Penney, from Manchester University and lead author on the study.

"Amber provides a unique window into past forest ecosystems. It retains an incredible amount of information, not just about the spiders themselves, but also about the environment in which they lived."

David Penney (Manchester University)
David Penney is well known for his work on amber-locked spiders
This is the first time that the medical imaging technique, known as Very High Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography, has been used to investigate a fossil in amber - and Dr Penney said it had the potential to "revolutionise" the way fossils were studied.

The spider is a male and a species new to science. It has been formally classified as Cenotextricella simoni. The scientists say that it would have inhabited a wooded area and lived in a warm climate.

Dr Penney is renowned for his expertise on arachnids, especially amber-trapped ones. He is currently studying spiders in a "living laboratory" in the African jungle.

The Belgian co-authors on the study are based at Ghent University.

SEE ALSO
Ancient web spins evolution story
22 Jun 06 |  Science/Nature
Early web-spinner found in amber
14 Jun 06 |  Science/Nature

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