Scientists discover 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders

Scientists discover 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders

Scientists discover 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders

Pelican spiders are also called "assassin spiders" because their diet consists entirely of other spiders, which they slowly stalk and devour.

"I think there's going to be a lot more species that haven't yet been described or documented", Hannah Wood, curator of arachnids and myriapods at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and author of the study, said in a statement. The spiders use their long, curved pelican-like neck and fang-tipped mouthpieces to quickly impale their victims.

In a new study, scientists have discovered 18 new species of pelican spiders.

How the pelican spider got its name is no mystery. 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.

The happy ending to this tale (for arachnophiles, at least) is that pelican spiders still exist today - and in much greater variety than biologists previously thought. For years, the evolution and biodiversity of pelican spiders has been her primary research focus, one that has ultimately led to this discovery. These spiders also occur in Australia and South Africa; however, the species with the longest "necks" occur in Madagascar. The Pelican spiders are spiders that eat other spiders. Madagascar sits at the heart of the pelican spider's ancestral origins, and Wood and study coauthor Nikolaj Scharff think it's likely that the spiders have had a dynamic evolutionary history in isolation. The pelican spider is both a "living fossil" and a "Lazarus taxon" (an organism that gives the appearance of being resurrected from prehistory because its fossils were found before living versions). Although discovering and studying new species in Madagascar is hard due to the island's remote conditions, it is no secret that many species found on Madagascar live nowhere else. Instead, they only hunt and kill other types of spiders. Her analysis, focusing on spiders of the Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea genera, sorted the spiders into 26 different species - most of which have never before been described. But when intrepid scientists discovered live members of this group of spiders, they were deemed "living fossils".

Because Madagascar's wildlife is so poorly studied, the California Academy of Sciences launched an arthropod inventory in 2000, filling it with spiders and other invertebrates collected from throughout the island.

Like the coelacanth, assumed extinct for millions of years, pelican spiders have survived millennia while barely changing at all.

Wood examined collections from expeditions to the island and her own fieldwork, making detailed measurements and observations of their physical and ecological characteristics, trying to piece together their interrelationships and their place in the local environment. "And in Madagascar, this is common, for arachnologists to be finding and describing new species".