A new video based on fossils of a 410-million-year-old arachnid uses computer animation to recreate the animal walking. The arachnid belonged to the extinct order Trigonotarbida, and was a member of the Devonian genus Palaeocharinus, which was one of the first predators on land.
Researchers from the University of Manchester and the Museum für Naturkunde used exceptionally preserved fossils from the Natural History Museum in London to create the video, which shows the most likely walking gait of the animal. The video accompanies a study published in the Journal of Paleontology.
Watch the video below:
The scientists used the fossils — thin slices of rock showing the animal’s cross-section — to work out the range of motion in the limbs of this ancient, extinct relative of the spiders. From this, and comparisons to living arachnids, the researchers used an open-source computer graphics program called Blender to create the video showing the arachnid 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 Dr. Russell Garwood, a palaeontologist in the University of Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric, and Environmental Sciences. “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.”
“These fossils — from a rock called the Rhynie chert — are unusually well-preserved,” said co-author Jason Dunlop, a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. “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,” he added. “Now we can view them running across our computer screens.”
“This is something anyone could do at home, while allowing us to understand these early land animals better than ever before,” Dr. Garwood said.
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