Science

Study reveals 18 new pelican spider species

Study reveals 18 new pelican spider species”

This pelican spider is dangling its spider prey upside-down using its chelicerae after capturing it.

Arachnologist Hannah Wood at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History obtained hundreds of pelican spider bodies to get a better understanding of these little-known creatures. The spiders use their long, curved pelican-like neck and fang-tipped mouthpieces to quickly impale their victims.

Until recently, little was known of the pelican spider, a rare arachnid breed whose fossils were discovered in 1854. This, combined with its mouthparts - which are lengthened into folding, salad tong-like abominations - give the spider a profile that evokes the gawkiness of a pelican. While the victim will struggle and perhaps attempt to attack the spider, pelican spiders, will keep them at arm's length while the prey is dying from a deadly venom injected into it. Spiders are just as afraid of you as you are of them, maybe even more so.

"These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar", Wood said in a news release.

Michael Rix, who studies Australia's pelican spiders at the Queensland Museum, said "The discovery and description of 18 new species is an exciting reminder of the diversity of life on Earth and what still remains to be found". If you're a spider, you know exactly what I'm describing - a beast, which, at least to smaller spiders, is an otherworldly, eldritch terror: the pelican spider.

After studying hundreds of specimens from Madagascar, a scientist has discovered 18 new species of one of the most weird spiders on the planet: the spider-eating "pelican spider" that uses salad tong-like jaws to snatch prey. After years of collecting pelican spiders from Madagascar and studying them in museum collections, Wood and colleague Nikolaj Scharff of the University of Copenhagenin Denmark described the freaky hunters in unprecedented detail. That's because Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot, meaning that over 90 percent of the wildlife exist only in that region. Instead, they only hunt and kill other types of spiders.

Madagascar is now home to 26 distinct species of pelican spider, 18 of which were described this week in the journal ZooKeys.

But it's not the pelican spider's twisted visage that makes it a recurrent, grave addition to campfire stories at spiderling summer camp - it's what those freaky features evolved to do. In order to make her discovery, Wood studied the pelican spider which was in that collection, as well as some she collected. They are also "Lazarus taxa", meaning that they were formerly thought to be extinct.

"Then", Wood told Science News in 2014, following publication of a previous pelican spider study, "they pull out one chelicera and leave the other one hanging out there with the spider prey impaled on it". It is also important to cover Madagascar as a spot which has a high potential for new species to be discovered, the press release reported.



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