February 26, 2024

Glowing Spider Fossils Prompt Breakthrough Research on Treasure Trove of Amazingly Well-Preserved Specimens

Under regular lighting the spider fossil is difficult to separate from the surrounding rock matrix, but when the fossil is thrilled by UV-illumination its chemical structure triggers it to autofluorescence vibrantly, revealing extra information of its conservation. Scanning electron image of fossilized spider abdomen exposing a black polymer on the fossil and the presence of 2 kinds of microalgae: a mat of straight diatoms on the fossil and distributed centric diatoms in the surrounding matrix. We likewise saw there were just thousands and thousands and thousands of microalgae all around the fossils and coating the fossils themselves.”
Together these expose a black sulfur-rich polymer on the fossil and the existence of 2 kinds of siliceous microalgae: a mat of straight diatoms on the fossil and distributed centric diatoms in the surrounding matrix. Olcott and her associates hypothesize that the extracellular compound these microalgae, called diatoms, are understood to produce would have secured the spiders from oxygen and promoted sulfurization of the spiders, a chemical change that would discuss conservation of the fossils as carbonaceous movies over the millions of ensuing years.

Fossilized spider from the Aix-en-Provence Formation in France seen in hand sample overlain with fluorescent microscopy image of the same fossil. Under normal lighting the spider fossil is hard to distinguish from the surrounding rock matrix, however when the fossil is delighted by UV-illumination its chemical composition triggers it to autofluorescence vibrantly, exposing extra details of its conservation.
A geologic development near Aix-en-Provence, France, is renowned as one of the worlds essential gold mine of Cenozoic Era fossil species. Researchers have been revealing extremely unspoiled fossilized plants and animals there because the late 1700s.

” Most life doesnt become a fossil.”– Alison Olcott

The Aix-en-Provence development is particularly well-known for its fossilized terrestrial arthropods from the Oligocene Period (in between approximately 23-34 million years ago). Due to the fact that arthropods– animals with exoskeletons like spiders– are rarely fossilized, their abundance at Aix-en-Provence is astounding.
A new study published in the journal Communications Earth & & Environment on April 21, 2022, from researchers at the University of Kansas is the very first to ask: What are the special chemical and geological procedures at Aix-en-Provence that protect spiders from the Oligocene Period so exceptionally?
” Most life does not end up being a fossil,” said lead author Alison Olcott, associate professor of geology and director of the Center for Undergraduate Research at KU. “Its hard to become a fossil. You have to die under extremely particular scenarios, and among the most convenient methods to become a fossil is to have hard parts like teeth, bones, and horns. Our record of soft-body life and terrestrial life, like spiders, is spotty– however we have these durations of exceptional preservation when all circumstances were unified for conservation to occur.”
Scanning electron image of fossilized spider abdomen exposing a black polymer on the fossil and the existence of two kinds of microalgae: a mat of straight diatoms on the fossil and distributed centric diatoms in the surrounding matrix. Olcott and her KU co-authors Matthew Downen– then a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geology and now the assistant director at Center for Undergraduate Research– and Paul Selden, KU distinguished teacher emeritus, along with James Schiffbauer of the University of Missouri, sought to find the specific processes at Aix-en-Provence that provided a path for conservation for the spider fossils.
” Matt was working on explaining these fossils, and we decided– more or less on a whim– to stick them under the fluorescent microscope to see what occurred,” Olcott said. We likewise saw there were just thousands and thousands and thousands of microalgae all around the fossils and coating the fossils themselves.”
Together these expose a black sulfur-rich polymer on the fossil and the presence of two kinds of siliceous microalgae: a mat of straight diatoms on the fossil and dispersed centric diatoms in the surrounding matrix. Olcott and her associates hypothesize that the extracellular compound these microalgae, called diatoms, are known to produce would have safeguarded the spiders from oxygen and promoted sulfurization of the spiders, a chemical change that would describe preservation of the fossils as carbonaceous movies over the millions of ensuing years.
” These microalgae make the sticky, viscous gloop– thats how they stick together,” the KU scientist stated. “I hypothesized the chemistry of those microalgae, and the stuff they were extruding, actually made it possible for this chemical reaction to protect the spiders. Essentially, the chemistry of the microalgae and the chemistry of the spiders collaborate to have this special preservation take place.”
Undoubtedly, this sulfurization phenomenon is the exact same as a common commercial treatment utilized to preserve rubber.
” Vulcanization is a naturally occurring procedure– we do it ourselves to cure rubber in a widely known procedure,” Olcott stated. “Sulfurization takes carbon and cross-links it with sulfur and stabilizes the carbon, which is why we do it to rubber to make it last longer. What I believe happened here chemically is the spider exoskeleton is chitin, which is made up of long polymers with carbon systems near each other, and its a best environment to have the sulfur bridges can be found in and actually stabilize things.”
Olcott stated the existence of diatomic mats might possibly act as a guide to discover more deposits of unspoiled fossils in the future.
” The next step is expanding these methods to other deposits to see if conservation is connected to diatom mats,” she stated. “Of all the other extraordinary fossil preservation websites worldwide in the Cenozoic Era, something like 80 percent of them are found in association with these microalgae. So, were questioning if this describes the majority of these fossil sites that we have in this time– essentially from right after the dinosaurs went extinct till now. This mechanism could be responsible for offering us information to check out the advancement of bugs and other terrestrial life post-dinosaurs and to comprehend climate modification, because theres a period of quick climate change and these terrestrial organisms assist us comprehend what occurred to life last time environment began shifting.”
Olcott and her coworkers are the very first to parse the chemistry of conservation at Aix-en-Provence, a fact she chalks up in part to difficulties of carrying out science during COVID-19 restrictions.
” I honestly believe this study is partially a result of pandemic science,” she stated. “The first batch of these images appeared in May 2020. My lab was still closed; I was 2 months into my leg of 18 months at house with kids all the time– and so I needed to alter how I was doing science. I invested a lot of time with these images and these chemical maps and really sort of explored them in a way that they probably would not have actually occurred if all the labs were open and we could have gone in and done more traditional work.”
Reference: “The remarkable preservation of Aix-en-Provence spider fossils might have been assisted in by diatoms” by Alison N. Olcott, Matthew R. Downen, James D. Schiffbauer and Paul A. Selden, 21 April 2022, Communications Earth & & Environment.DOI: 10.1038/ s43247-022-00424-7.
The University of Kansas is a major extensive research and teaching university. The universitys objective is to raise trainees and society by informing leaders, developing healthy neighborhoods and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the main public relations office for the Lawrence campus.