back to article Scientists reveal eight-legged Jurassic beast

In delightful news for arachnophobes, scientists have revealed the largest known fossil spider - a 165 million-year-old golden orb weaver whose legs spanned an impressive 15cm. The fossilised Nephila jurassica. Pic: Paul Selden et al The female Nephila jurassica (pictured - scale bar represents 5mm) was unearthed in Inner …


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  1. fourth of three

    Is 15cm really that large?

    Okay, so I have not checked -- because I would rather not -- but surely present-day weavers exceed 15cm in leg-span. Nearly ran into one of their webs when I was young on vacation with my parents. At the time, the thing seemed absolutely monstrous and gave nightmares for some time.

    Present phobias aside, a beautiful specimen.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Is 15cm really that large?

      It's the largest fossil example. I really don't want to think about the modern monsters.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ fourth of three

      and many others - largest current spider - Goliath Bird Eating Spider of Old London Town* - 30cm legspan, which is about twice the size of this fossil.

      There are youtube videos of the thing as well - they don't generally actually eat birds but I wouldn't go near one if I was a mouse or an arachnophobe.

      *I made up the "Old London Town thing - it just seemed right - thing raspberries and phantoms.

    3. Smallbrainfield
      Black Helicopters

      It's big for a web weaving spider

      Beasties like the goliath spider rely on their size rather than webs to overpower their prey.

      Black helicopter 'cos it looks a bit like a spider...

  2. PolarPerson

    A bigger one (Maybe?)

    The Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge has a specimen that MAY be a spider, but which is a LOT bigger - see OK, it might not be a spider - but it certainly looks like one (I've seen it). And the generic name means "Big Spider".

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: A bigger one (Maybe?)

      Apparently that's a eurypterid (sea scorpion). Biggest one was over two metres in length, so it's probably just as well they became extinct some years back.

      1. PolarPerson

        Re: A bigger one (Maybe?)

        No, it MAY be a Eurypterid - which is a marine relation to a spider, anyway. And if it is a Eurypterid, it is an anomalous one - I am no expert in the Chelicerae, but I understand there are problems with identifying it as a Eurypterid, just as there are problems with it being a spider! So, it is either an anomalous spider or an anomalous Eurypterid.

        1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

          Re: Re: A bigger one (Maybe?)

          Let's agree to call it an arachterid, and that we don't want to find one in the bath, ever.

          1. Anonymous John


            If it spun a web, you'd never get out.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    That thing gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies.

  4. Raggs

    Bugger to walk through

    I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing fun walking through one of their giant webs at night, especially when bearded. The modern day ones that I've seen are probably about 10cm in length. 15cm is quite big for a spider (I haven't personally seen anything larger than the modern day orb spiders), tarantualas get bigger, but then they aren't spiders.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Tarantulas aren't spiders ?!?

      I beg to differ, to they are very much arachnids, belonging to the Theraphosidae family.

      Go scare yourself on Wikipedia, I can't read more.

  5. Jemma Silver badge

    15cm small...

    Not really - if you think about the biggest dragonfly of the period it had between a 3 & 6 foot wingspan depending on who you read and how its measured.. but the body was substantially smaller - probably just under a foot - 12 inches - in length..

    then factor in that spiders are active and therefore need strong legs and a high oxygen %age in the air and you begin to understand the limits of size that the bodyplan and activity have on size... not to mention the external carapace limits size in most arthropods/insects (when the old skin is shed the new chitin underneath is soft - too big an animal and every time it changed skins it would turn into critter soup...) and you start to see the limitations of sizes possible.

    Back in the carboniferous the oxygen levels were 30% so its likely that this may have been a smaller variant of a carboniferous species, since the oxygen levels dropped off a substantial cliff at the end of the carboniferous leading to one of the major mass extinctions. Its likely, that if we find older ancestors of this spider and others, they will be substantially larger..

    1. Mike Richards

      The Reg has already covered this

      A while back Lewis used science to prove that spiders in Greenland would soon qualify for the congestion charge:

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I for one...

    ...welcome our 8-legged, carniverous overl...

    Oh wait - they're extinct. Never mind.

  7. Paul Powell

    Who wants pictures for the goliath spider then?

    Google image search for "Goliath Spider":

    can you not resist? Don't blame me!

    1. VinceH

      Letters, digits.

      Beautiful creatures, aren't they?

      1. peyton?

        Re: beautiful creatures

        That's what's so terrible - they just sit around looking calm and complacent.... but you know behind the innocent visage they're busy calculating the best trajectory for leaping at you and eating your face off.

        ^ Me, if I encountered one of these.

        1. garetht t

          re:Re: beautiful creatures

          wait... we're talking about cats now..?

  8. John 62

    I am shocked and appalled

    that I am the first to ask: did they nickname it Shelob?

  9. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Ahhh... But just suppose...

    "The males are a pretty puny bunch, being much smaller than the females in an example of "extreme sexual dimorphism". The researchers are keen to see if that was also true of the ancient Nephila."

    It could well be true -- but are they ABSOLUTELY sure that this one is a female...? I mean, if they're wrong about that, then the female could be the size of a small car.

    But not to worry... Such things went extinct eons ag... Huh... What's that odd scratching sound...?

    Excuse me... I just want to check that out and I'll be right back!

    1. James O'Shea

      big spiders


      'nuff said.

  10. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    The big ones don't bother be as much as the macro shots of their little brothers. Just knowing how ugly the little buggers are up-close gives me the screaming dib-dabs!

    1. Raggs


      When I was walking through the webs of orb spiders I had the most disturbing spider I'd ever seen drop on me. It was dark, so I could really see it clearly, so I wrapped it in a tissue and took it home.

      Only small, but it had spikes coming out of it's abdomen , that were hard (at first I thought it was a seed of some sort). It was also a deep devilish red. Horrible looking thing. Good thing I love them :D

  11. Anonymous Coward


    Damn she's got some fine trichobothria, very very fine.

  12. zen1

    Excuse me, Mr. Haines?

    Might I suggest a shotgun or assault rifle icon for future articles like this? I mean I really hate spiders, terrestrial or web weaving. I plan on using the grenade simply for that fact. but given its general size, I don't think a grenade would be sufficient as approximately 2-3% of the frags would actually hit it, thus only accomplish pissing it off (assuming it were still alive).

  13. Matt Piechota


    I'm sure the Syfy channel is firing up Movie Generator 8.7i as we speak.

    A sample for the non-US folks.

  14. Graham Bartlett

    If you think this is bad...

    Really, really don't look up spider crabs.

    They have one of these things in the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford. (At least I think it was the Pitt-Rivers - we hit several museums that day.) If I ever saw one of them when I was out for a swim, I'd be in serious need of a replacement pair of Speedos.

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