The 260-million-year-old tarantula footprints were imprinted in Arizona sand. The humidity of the sand helped to keep the arachnid tracks, as the sand dried, the footprints solidified. Over thousands of years it hardened so that, in 1968, the rock and footprints were taken out of the Arizona desert and taken to the Museum of Paleontology.
Although it was most likely a spider, some believe it could be any other insect. It is impossible to make comparisons because there are no fossil spiders from those areasThey are too soft to hold fossilized over time.
Deciphering the footprints left by whatever organism it was is the work of the discipline known as icnology. Icnology looks at the shapes of the tracks, their distribution and other signs to learn more about the animals and the environment at the time the signals were produced.
When the fossil was found in 1968, the paleontologist Raymond Alf carried out some experiments to determine if the eight-legged tracks were the work of a spider, a scorpion or something else.
Twenty years later, geologist Christa Sadler I redo the experiment. He created a 4-meter sand track with a small hill in the center. He sprayed water on part of the sand and kept the rest dry and released tarantulas and scorpions on the track. He calculated and observed how they etched their tracks based on angle, humidity and speed.
His conclusions were the same about the fossil: it was a tarantula. However, there is still much to learn about spider tracks, especially those that belong to prehistoric arachnids. Looking at the fossil with the naked eye, you might think it was a four-toed creature, but Anthony Martin of Emory University sees the unmistakable footprints of a single eight-toed creature. "The legs on either side of the spider are moving at different times", He says. "This is a very typical pattern with terrestrial arthropods”.
Regarding the size of the spider, the width of the tracks gives a general idea of how big it got. However, it is difficult to tell if the spider assumed a wide stance or crawled on its legs. For now we know that an arachnid from 260 million years ago roamed Arizona.
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