Harvestman trapped in amber donation

07 April 2008

A rare, spider-like harvestman preserved in amber has been donated to the Natural History Museum by Rochester fossil collector Terence Collingwood.

The tiny arachnid is 34-40 million years old and is only the second example of its species, Dicranopalpus ramiger> , to join the national collection.

'Being able to contribute to the Museum's collection is a dream come true,' said Terence Collingwood, who runs I Dig Dinos fossil shop on Rochester High Street.

'I buy bulk lots of amber to sell, and I have to search through them carefully looking for unusual items that other people may have missed. Finding this was pure chance, but I realised straight away that it was something special.'

Spider-like harvestman
Close up of the harvestman preserved in the amber.

Close up of the harvestman preserved in the amber.

The harvestman looks similar to a spider but it is not. They have oval bodies and very thin legs. While spiders have their head and abdomen separated by a waist, harvestmen's bodies and heads are fused together, and they do not produce silk. Harvestman belong to the class Arachnids that also includes spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites.

This specimen is a juvenile. Its body is the size of a pinhead and it has very thin, 6mm-long legs. It was preserved in a lump of Baltic amber slightly larger than a £2 coin.

Rare find

'Complete harvestmen are rare finds,' said Andrew Ross, Museum fossil invertebrates and plants expert. 'It's more common to find just the legs in amber, where a trapped leg or two were sacrificed so the harvestman could escape the sticky resin.'

'This is a particularly impressive example because all its legs are present and still attached to the body. It is a very welcome addition to our collection.'

Amber time capsule
This specimen is about the size of a £2 coin.

This specimen is about the size of a £2 coin.

Amber acts as nature's time capsule, telling us about life in ancient forests. It is fossilised tree resin that once was a gluey trap, capturing small insects as it oozed from tree bark millions of years ago.

Amber is extremely important for understanding the history of land-living animals, particularly small insects that are not often preserved in rocks.

This spectacular new addition will join the other 5,000 pieces of amber, many containing more than one insect, in the Museum's palaeontology collection.