KU professor helped identify, describe giant spider fossils

With his new description of giant spider fossils from China, a scientist from the University of Kansas is helping further knowledge about life on the planet while contributing to knowledge about how species adapt to climate change and perhaps our own future, the university said in a news release Monday.

Paul Selden, a professor of invertebrate paleontology at KU, is part of a team that recently described the largest known fossil spider ever found; the team published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, “The Science of Nature,” the KU release said.

Farmers from Inner Mongolia began finding spider fossils encased in stone from the Jurassic period a few years ago. Selden is part of a team that helped identify and describe them. The specimen they described is nearly the size of a man’s hand. In an e-mail from Germany, Selden said it measures 3 1/2 inches from leg tip to leg tip – big, though not as big as the modern-day Brazilian tarantula. Like many spiders, he added, “most of it is legs.”

The Middle Jurassic epoch, when the spider lived, started about 176 million years ago, so these fossils are old. But studying fossils of ancient creatures are relevant today because the research can give clues we’ll all find valuable, he said.

“These give clues to what the climate was like at the time, and we can then track the fate of these ecosystems as they evolved through time and changing environments,” Selden said in the prepared statement. “Understanding the processes involved helps us to predict how man-made changes might affect the Earth’s climates and biodiversity.”