A microscopic mite was found clinging to an ancient spider encased in amber. The findings, published today (November 9) in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, could represent the smallest arthropod to ever be fossilized this way.
The two arthropods became stuck in the yellow, hardening tree resin about 50-million years ago and have been “preserved with lifelike fidelity” ever since, biologist and co-author David Penney told BBC News. The tiny, 176-micrometer-long mite was visualized by combining a series of CT scans, which paleontologists from the University of Manchester were able to use to reconstruct a 3D model.
The incredibly detailed results allowed the scientists to digitally dissect the mite, visualize the underside, and identify the species. The tiny hitchhiker is the oldest example of the Histiostomatidae family of mites, Wired Science reported, and may also help scientists understand how long these mites have used spiders and insects as a means of free transportation.
Corrections: This story has been updated from its original version to correctly reflect that spiders are not insects. The Scientist regrets the error.