Book review: Fossil Arachnids: Monograph Series Vol 2, by Jason A Dunlop and David Penney

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

This is the second of a two-part series of monographs on spiders (and arachnids more generally) involving Dr David Penney (the first is Fossil Spiders: The evolutionary history of a mega-diverse order – Monograph Series Vol 1). This one is written with Jason Dunlop, who has described numerous new fossil species in a variety of arachnid groups, from scorpions to harvestmen, to mites and even some extinct groups.

Fossil arachnids (spiders, scorpions, harvestmen and so on) are one of the first animal groups to appear on dry land, dating back more than 400 million years to the Silurian period. However, there has been no basic overview of the arachnid fossil record published in an accessible format, suitable for students of biology or geology looking for basic palaeontological information, or for arachnologists interested in what these animals were like millions of years ago. Therefore, the book is intended to provide up-to-date background information on what the arachnids are, their relationships to one another, and how fossils are relevant to these issues. The authors also discuss the probable ecology of the extinct species, based on the interpretation of their morphology and the behaviour of their living relatives. The book is also intended as an identification guide for newly discovered fossils from both amber and rock deposits.

The book is full of colour photographs, highlighting the appearance and diversity of arachnids, the different ways in which they can become fossilised and the sheer quality of preservation that is sometimes present. Therefore, the book will be of interest both to arachnologists and palaeontologists, and there is little doubt that it will be used as a reference for biologists interested in the evolutionary history of spiders and their many relatives for many years to come.

Jason Dunlop has been interested in arachnids since childhood and has published more than 150 scientific papers in this area; particularly focusing on fossil arachnids, their evolution and their arthropod relatives, often describing new species. Since 1997, he has been Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda at the Berlin Museum of Natural History. David Penney has had a lifelong interest in spiders, with 25 years of experience working with amber fossils. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society.

Fossil Arachnids: Monograph Series Volume 2 by Jason A Dunlop and David Penney, Siri Scientific Press, Manchester (2012). 192 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-0-9567795-4-0

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