Terrifying ancient spider the size of your hand discovered in Australia

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A spider that roamed the rainforest and was the size of your hand has been found fossilised in Australia.

In the heart of the country, scientists have found a beautifully preserved fossil of a huge spider that hunted more than 11 million years ago.

It is the fourth spider fossil ever to be found in Australia and the first globally to belong to the large brush-footed trapdoor spider family, Barychelidae.

The species lived in a period of global warmth between 11 and 16 million years ago and has been named Megamonodontium mccluskyi.

Palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales and the Australian Museum, Matthew McCurry, said: “Only four spider fossils have ever been found throughout the whole continent, which has made it difficult for scientists to understand their evolutionary history. 

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“That is why this discovery is so significant, it reveals new information about the extinction of spiders and fills a gap in our understanding of the past.

“The closest living relative of this fossil now lives in wet forests in Singapore through to Papua New Guinea. This suggests that the group once occupied similar environments in mainland Australia but have subsequently gone extinct as Australia became more arid.”

The fossil was discovered with others from the same time period, the Miocene, in a grassland region of New South Wales.

It is the second largest spider fossil found, with its body measuring 23.31mm. With its legs it would be the size of your palm.

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The discovery can show how Australia has changed over time. There are no Megamonodontium in the region today, suggesting the land drying out was responsible for wiping out certain spider groups.

“Not only is it the largest fossilised spider to be found in Australia but it is the first fossil of the family Barychelidae that has been found worldwide,” says arachnologist Robert Raven of Queensland Museum.

“There are around 300 species of brush-footed trapdoor spiders alive today, but they don’t seem to become fossils very often. This could be because they spend so much time inside burrows and so aren’t in the right environment to be fossilised.”

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