February 3, 2016 5:42 pm
Updated: February 4, 2016 11:53 am

Scientists discover daddy longlegs spider with 99 million-year-old erection

A photograph of the daddy longlegs preserved in amber.

Jason Dunlop, Paul Selden and Gonzalo Giribet

Talk about having a bad day.

About 99 million years ago a harvestman spider — otherwise known as a daddy longlegs — might have been about to do the deed when he was trapped in amber.

That’s right: this spider has had an erection for 99 million years.

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The discovery was announced in a paper in the February edition of the journal The Science of Nature. This is the first time a daddy longlegs spider (in this case, the Halitherses grimaldii) had its penis preserved in amber. The discovery was made in Myanmar.

And the penis of this unfortunate spider is pretty impressive: it measured to nearly half his body length.

“This is the first time the penis has been seen in an amber harvestman,” Jason Dunlop, the lead author of the paper told Global News.

There is no guarantee that the spider was about to engage in coitus, however.

A close-up image of the erect penis of a daddy longlegs found preserved in amber.

Jason Dunlop, Paul Selden and Gonzalo Giribet

“There is no female in the same amber piece,” Dunlop said. “It’s possible that the male was attempting to mate and got caught in sticky tree resin. Another alternative is that the animal got caught, started struggling and this caused a rise in blood pressure and pushed the penis out accidentally.”

Almost everyone is familiar with the daddy longlegs of today. They come by their name honestly, with a tiny body and extremely long legs. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Though they prefer damp climates, they can still be found in deserts. They’re actually quite interesting as they are more closely related to the scorpion than the spider.

It’s interesting to note as well, that this harvestman spider is a cousin of the daddy longlegs spiders we’ve come to know today. As well, the story of them being the most venomous spider in the world is pure myth.

Scientists hope to better understand the evolution of harvestman spiders over the millions of years they have been around.

“The anatomy of the penis is very important for determining where a particular harvestmen fits in the family tree. In fact the genitals are often more interesting than the overall body shape,” said Dunlop. “This new fossil has a penis which is different in shape from that of all living harvestmen we know so far and, strongly suggests that we are dealing with a new (extinct) family.”

The finding also helps shed light on the mating habits of spiders over their existence on Earth. Dunlop said that the discovery suggests that the harvestmen spiders of today mate in almost the same way of the harvestmen millions of years ago.

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