Paleontologists Make 410 Million Year Old Arachnid Walk
    By News Staff | July 8th 2014 10:40 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    One of the first predators on land, a 410-million-year-old arachnid, has been virtually brought back to life. Paleontologists used exceptionally preserved fossils from the Natural History Museum in London to create the video showing the most likely walking gait of the animal.

    The scientists used the fossils - thin slices of rock showing the animal's cross-section - to deduce the range of motion in the limbs of this ancient, extinct early relative of the spiders. From this, and comparisons to living arachnids, the researchers used the open source computer graphic program  Blender to create a video showing the animals walking.

    "When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain," said lead author Dr. Russell Garwood, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester. "They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders. Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved – all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs."

    Whole body and appendages of a harvestman. Credit. DOI:10.1666/13-088

    Co-author Jason Dunlop, a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, said, "These fossils – from a rock called the Rhynie chert – are unusually well-preserved. During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life. This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked. For me, what's really exciting here is that scientists themselves can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry – and immense costs – of a Jurassic Park-style film.

    "When I started working on fossil arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like; now we can view them running across our computer screens."

    Garwood added: "Using open-source software means that this is something anyone could do at home, while allowing us to understand these early land animals better than ever before."

    Visualization made as part of a special collection of papers on three-dimensional visualization and analysis of fossils in the Journal of Paleontology.

    Edited to fix confusing verbage and to use an image from the same video and article rather than a study in May and to insert the citation for the Journal of Paleontology, which was still unpublished at the time.

    References :

    Russell Garwood and Jason Dunlop, 'The walking dead: Blender as a tool for paleontologists with a case study on extinct arachnids', Journal of Paleontology 88(4):735-746. 2014 DOI: 10.1666/13-088

    Russell J. Garwood, Prashant P. Sharma, Jason A. Dunlop, Gonzalo Giribet, 'A Paleozoic Stem Group to Mite Harvestmen Revealed through Integration of Phylogenetics and Development', Current Biology, Volume 24, Issue 9, 5 May 2014, Pages 1017-1023. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.039.

    Source: University of Manchester


    This animation bears no relation to the still image. Frankly it is just cobbled-together garbage. This arachnid's second pair of legs were obviously very long compared to the others--the "animation" ignored this completely. The fourth pair of legs ends in very complicated joints--again, the animation uses the same blocky configuration for all legs. Lastly, the center of gravity in the "animated" figure is not over the legs, so it would not have been able to keep its huge abdomen (not half that big in the still shot) off the ground. This is why science is a mystery to most people--some software guys getting together and fashioning a gew-gaw that has nothing to do with reality yet it is presented as a fact. This "animation" should be taken down.

    You should tell the Journal of Paleontology to retract the paper, or write the study authors who created the video. 
    Thanks. Done.

    Russell Garwood, who is responsible for this animation, kindly communicated with me and pointed out that the illustration of the fossil harvestman in this article does not in fact belong. It is not the species upon which the animation was created, that creature is a trigonotarbid. My deepest apologies to Professor Garwood, while I at the same time wag my finger at "science 2.0" for hastily throwing this article together without looking to see if the elements were correct or even if it made sense.

    Thanks Jim for bringing to my attention this article. The reason the model doesn't resemble the animation is because these are the result of two different studies.
    Garwood, R.J.*, Sharma, P.*, Dunlop, J.A. & Giribet, G. In press. A Paleozoic Stem Group to Mite Harvestmen Revealed through Integration of Phylogenetics and Development. Current Biology
    Garwood, R.J. & Dunlop, J.A. 2014. The walking dead: Blender as a tool for palaeontologists with a case study on extinct arachnids. Journal of Palaeontology 88(4):735-746.
    The arachnids in question are two different fossils, in different arachnid orders and separated by 105 million years! I will try and alert the webmaster to this error. The only aspect of the comment I believe to be in error is the centre of mass issue - this was calculated and mapped on (as reported in the paper) throughout the walking cycle, and at all times remains within the tetrapod in contact with the floor, thus the posterior would not have dragged on the ground. Figure 6 in the paper demonstrates this directly.

    Thanks for the interest in our work, the coverage, and the subsequent discussion!

    Thanks Russell, and my apologies to you. The article is quite unclear; it seems an editor went through the original copy and deleted portions for reasons of space, and in so doing made it incomprehensible. (This however does not excuse using an image of the wrong fossil creature as illustration.) I will accept your word that your animated model does indeed have an appropriate center of gravity, however I would simply point out that in general the hindmost pair of the average spider's legs are the longest (and presumably the strongest) and tend to trail next to the abdomen, for the very reason that the abdomen requires a great deal of support. If the size and length of the legs in your model are true-to-life, is it possible that this creature held its abdomen upright? This would certainly go a long way towards resolving my center-of-gravity question.