An ancient attack frozen in time

A 100-million year old wasp saw its final moments in the waiting jaws of an orb-weaver spider, but things didn’t exactly play out that way.

Just as the juvenile spider went in for the kill, both predator and prey were trapped in a flow of tree sap, freezing them both in a dance even older than the Cretaceous period dinosaurs (perhaps the triceratops) lumbering around below.

Researchers at Oregon State University say the amber fossil found in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar is the only one on record depicting this exact spider/prey scene.

While scientists believe that spiders have been around for about 200 million years, this fossil teaches us something about how long spiders have been exhibiting a certain behavior. Orb-weaver spiders today are social and live in groups, a rare trait in the often solitary spider world. This piece of amber shows that orb-weavers were social even in the Cretaceous: an adult male spider was also trapped in the amber, living in the same web as the juvenile.

Researchers who found the fossil also view it as a kind of payback. Descendants of this kind of wasp, Cascoscelio incassus, have been known to parasitize spider eggs.

Photo: Oregon State University/Flickr

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