Yes, Paul Selden says, it’s the biggest spider fossil on record, one whose leg span stretches to be almost 6 inches.
But that’s not really the most exciting part of the Nephila jurassica spider, said the distinguished professor from Kansas University who is an expert in fossilized spiders.
Selden and his team, whose research was published in Biology Letters, linked the spider that walked around 165 million years ago to several similar spiders that still roam the earth.
The find — likely because of its size — attracted quite a bit of national and international press coverage.
“The size is not that big a thing,” Selden said, noting that several spiders that big — and even bigger — are still around. “We can place it right into a modern genus with these modern orb-weavers.”
These kinds of finds can take awhile before scientists understand what they’re looking at, Selden said. This particular spider fossil came to him in 2005 from a friend who had collected some specimens in the Inner Mongolia region of China. That usually entails purchasing them from farmers in the region, Selden said.
Around Christmas, Selden was looking at the find more carefully, and began to realize what he was seeing.
“It’s what you might call a living fossil,” he said.
The process for finding these kinds of discoveries is an exciting one, said Erin Saupe, a doctoral student studying under Selden. It’s like a puzzle, she said.
“You’re uncovering things that nobody’s ever experienced before,” she said.