New Venomous ‘Tarantula-Like’ Spider Species Discovered That Can Live For Decades
A new venomous ‘tarantula-like’ spider species that can potentially live for decades has been discovered at a Florida zoo.
The spooky species, named the Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider, was originally spotted in the grounds of Zoo Miami back in 2012 by shocked members of staff. No doubt there were a few shrieks and jumps that day.
However, the identity of this creature remained mysterious for more than two years after that initial discovery, up until the capture of a second specimen. It was at this point that the zoo sought outside assistance.
Now, nearly a decade after the first discovery, the spider has now been confirmed as a previously-undescribed species.
Zoo conservation chief Frank Ridgley said:
To me, it appears similar to a small shiny black tarantula. Similar species are ambush predators. They create a web burrow down into soft and sandy substrate with a hinged door at the surface.
They spend their entire lives in that same burrow, waiting for prey to come past their trapdoor, then they lunge out from their camouflaged lair to grab their prey.
Dr Rebecca Godwin of Piedmont University in Georgia was the one to identify the Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider as a new species, having had ‘no doubt that it was a new species’.
Dr Godwin believes the female spider could well live for more than 20 years. However, the male has a significantly shorter life-span, leaving its burrow after seven years of maturation only to die shortly afterwards.
The individuals that zoo staff encountered were wandering males. They have a rough carapace (shell) on their front half and a silvery-grey abdomen with a light-coloured patch on top. They’re really quite beautiful spiders.
There are also notable size differences between females and males. While the male is approximately the size of a one Euro coin when its legs are extended, it’s estimated that the female is around two to three times larger.
According to Dr Ridgley, the venom will have the equivalent effect of a bee sting for humans, but ‘is effective against the small invertebrates that it might go after’.
Spiders like this often rely on their size and strength to subdue their prey, and the venom often acts to help breakdown and liquefy the insides of their prey.
The spiders can be preyed upon by birds or face being parasitized by wasps, who lay eggs that will then hatch and devour them. However, the greatest danger this species faces is habitat loss.
Dr Ridgley stated that he was ‘both elated and worried by the discovery’, explaining:
Who doesn’t want to be part of discovering something like a new species? As a scientist, that is a dream come true.
The other side of this discovery is that I am intimately familiar with the unique and globally critically-endangered habitat it comes from. So I immediately thought that it is likely already imperilled.
According to Zoo Miami, locally speaking, just 1.5% of the spider’s pine rockland habitat survives beyond the Everglades National Park.
As explained by Dr Godwin, trapdoor spiders tend to be ‘very poor dispersers’ with ‘very small ranges’, and so it is likely that the Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider is ‘limited to this small area of threatened habitat and subsequently could be threatened itself’.
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