After modeling the exceptionally well-preserved remains of a 410 million-year-old arachnid, researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK used an open-source computer graphics program to bring the extinct predator back to virtual life.
It's called trigonotarbid and, in addition to being an early relative of spiders, it was one of the first predators to walk on land.
"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," noted University of Manchester researcher Russell Garwood in a statement. "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."
Along with Jason Dunlop, a curator at the Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde, Garwood used the fossils — thin slices of rock showing the animal's cross-section — to determine the range of motion in the trigonotarbid's limbs. From this, along with comparisons to extant arachnids, the researchers used the Blender computer graphics program to show how the creatures likely crawled around.
"These fossils – from a rock called the Rhynie chert – are unusually well-preserved," added Dunlop. "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; now we can view them running across our computer screens."
Read the entire study at Journal of Paleontology: "The walking dead: blender as a tool for palaeontologists with a case study on extinct arachnids" Additional info via University of Manchester UK.