Shortlisted entries 2012
5. An Ancient Arachnid
This computer-generated photograph shows a 305-million-year-old harvestman arachnid. It lived in a time when the supercontinent Pangaea – upon which the dinosaurs lived 80 million years later – was assembling. This continent’s thick forests were home to the harvestman. After dying, the 6.5-mm-long creature fell into shallow water, and was quickly buried. An iron carbonate mineral grew around it and stopped it being squashed as the surrounding mud became rock. The animal then rotted away, leaving a three-dimensional hole. To create the 3D model you see here, I CT scanned the fossil and digitally extracted the legs and body. Such research helps us to better understand evolution and how animals respond to their environment – it suggests that harvestmen make up an ancient group that changes slowly. It also shows that exciting science happens when disciplines overlap – in this case, geology, biology, X-ray physics, and computer science.