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.
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