Temporal range: Asselian
|Fossil of Megarachne servinei exhibited at the Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona|
|Reconstruction of Megarachne servinei|
|Species:||† M. servinei|
Megarachne servinei was originally described in 1980 by the Argentinean palaeontologist Mario Hünicken. The holotype was recovered from the Pallero Member of the Bajo de Véliz Formation of Argentina, a locality dated to the Asselian Age (298.9 ± 0.2 to 295.5 ± 0.4 million years ago (Ma)). Hünicken identified the specimen as a mygalomorph spider based on the shape of the carapace, the 15 millimetres (0.59 in) wide circular eye tubercle located between the two eyes in the center of the head, a structure in front of the carapace he identified as spatulate chelicerae, and a circular structure behind the first body segment which he identified as the "moderately hairy" abdomen. Hünicken's identification relied heavily on X-ray microtomography of the holotype, and additional hidden structures were also extrapolated from the X-radiographs.
With a legspan estimated to be 50 centimetres (20 in), this would make Megarachne servinei the largest spider to have ever existed, far exceeding the goliath birdeater (Theraphosa leblondi) which has a maximum legspan of only around 30 centimetres (12 in). The discovery quickly became popular and various exhibits with reconstructions of Megarachne servinei as a gigantic spider were set up in museums around the world.
Even so, the identification of the specimen as a spider was doubted by some arachnologists. Even Hünicken himself acknowledged discrepancies in the morphology of the fossil that could not be accommodated with an arachnid identity. However, the holotype was by then deposited in a bank vault and other paleontologists only had access to the plaster casts.
In 2005, a second, more complete specimen was recovered from the same locality and horizon. A research team led by the British paleontologist and arachnologist Paul A. Selden and consisting of Hünicken and Argentinean arachnologist José A Corronca reexamined the holotype in light of the new discovery. They concluded that Megarachne servinei was not a spider, but was in fact, a large eurypterid, an extinct group of chelicerates more commonly known as "sea scorpions" and related to spiders, true scorpions, and horseshoe crabs. A morphological comparison with other eurypterids indicated that Megarachne most closely resembled another large Permo-Carboniferous eurypterid, the hibbertopteroid Woodwardopterus scabrosus which is known only from a single specimen.
Megarachne servinei is the only species classified under the genus Megarachne. Along with the genera Mycterops and Woodwardopterus, it is classified under the family Mycteroptidae, superfamily Hibbertopteroidea, suborder Stylonurina. The generic name of Megarachne comes from Greek for "giant spider".
In popular culture
A reconstruction of Megarachne servinei was slated to appear in the 2005 British documentary Walking with Monsters. Megarachne was to be depicted as a giant tarantula-like spider hunting cat-sized reptiles, following the information known about it when the series began production. The true identity of Megarachne as a eurypterid was only discovered well into production. By then it was too late to update the reconstructions. The scenes were left in, but the giant spider was instead recast as an unspecified species belong to the primitive spider suborder Mesothelae.
- Mario A. Hünicken (1980). "A giant fossil spider (Megarachne servinei) from Bajo de Véliz, Upper Carboniferous, Argentina". Boletin de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias, Córdoba, Argentina 53: 317–341.
- Paul A. Selden, José A. Corronca & Mario A. Hünicken (2005). "The true identity of the supposed giant fossil spider Megarachne" (PDF). Biology Letters 1 (1): 44–48. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2004.0272. PMC 1629066. PMID 17148124.
- "Megarachne servinei". Paleobiology Database. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- Brian Switek (24 March 2010). "Megarachne, the Giant Spider That Wasn’t". ScienceBlogs. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- P. Weygoldt & H. F. Paulus (1979). "Untersuchungen zur Morphologie, Taxonomie und Phylogenie der Chelicerata". Zeitschrift für zoologische Systematik und Evolutionsforschung 17 (2): 85–116, 177–200. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0469.1979.tb00694.x.
- Jason A. Dunlop, David Penney, & Denise Jekel; with additional contributions from Lyall I. Anderson, Simon J. Braddy, James C. Lamsdell, Paul A. Selden, & O. Erik Tetlie (2011). "A summary list of fossil spiders and their relatives". In Norman I. Platnick. The world spider catalog, version 11.5. American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
- Nicholas Wade (1 March 2005). "To the Rescue of Goliath". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2012.