Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Saturday, 31 October 2009

Spider web confirmed as 'oldest'

Spider web strands
The web is believed to have become trapped in amber during a forest fire

Spider webs encased in amber which were discovered on an East Sussex beach have been confirmed by scientists as being the world's oldest on record.

The amber, which was found in Bexhill by fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks and his brother Jonathan, dates back 140 million years to the Cretaceous period.

Professor Martin Brasier said they were the earliest webs to be incorporated into the fossil record.

He has published his findings in the Journal of the Geological Society.

Professor Brasier, who is a palaeobiologist at the University of Oxford, said: "This amber is very rare. It comes from the very base of the Cretaceous, which makes it one of the oldest ambers anywhere to have inclusions in it."

'Sticky droplets'

He added: "These spiders are distinctive and leave little sticky droplets along the spider web threads to trap prey.

"We actually have the sticky droplets preserved within the amber. These turn out to be the earliest webs that have ever been incorporated in the fossil record to our knowledge."

His studies revealed that the spider that spun the web is related to the modern day orb-web or garden spider.

Scientists think the web became trapped in conifer resin after a forest fire and then became fossilised inside the resulting amber.

Mr Hiscocks and his brother also found the fossilised remains of an Iguanodon jaw bone on the coastline.

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