First tarantula to live in bamboo stalks found in Thailand

A new genus of tarantula was discovered inside a bamboo culm from Mae Tho, Tak province, in Thailand. This is the first genus of tarantula that shows the surprising specialization of living in bamboo stalks. The bamboo culm tarantula Taksinus bambus was found in Thailand by JoCho Sippawat, a wildlife YouTuber from Thailand, who collaborated with arachnologists Dr. Narin Chomphuphuang and Mr. Chaowalit Songsangchote. The new genus and species are described in the journal ZooKeys.

Guest blog post by Dr. Narin Chomphuphuang

Bamboo is important to some animals as it can serve as a source of nutrition, shelter, and habitat. Inside a bamboo culm, we discovered a new genus of tarantula, which was collected from Mae Tho, Mueang Tak district, Tak province, in Thailand.

Mae Tho, Mueang Tak district, Tak province, in Thailand, where the newly described tarantula was discovered. Photo by Narin Chomphuphuang

The discovered genus has not been previously studied by scientists; this is the first case of a genus of tarantula that shows the surprising specialization of living in bamboo stalks.

We named the new tarantula genus Taksinus in honor of the Thai king Taksin the Great. The name was chosen in recognition of Taksin the Great’s old name, Phraya Tak – governor of Tak province, which is where the new genus was discovered. After the Second Fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, Taksin the Great was the only king of the Thonburi Kingdom to become a key leader of Siam, prior to the establishment of Thailand.

The bamboo culm tarantula Taksinus bambus was found in Thailand by JoCho Sippawat, a nationally known wildlife YouTuber in Thailand with 2.45 million subscribers, who collaborated with Dr. Narin Chomphuphuang and Mr. Chaowalit Songsangchote, the arachnologists who studied and described the new genus. 

Zongtum Sippawat, or JoCho Sippawat (left), with Wuttikrai Khaikaew, Kaweesak Keeratikiat, Narin Chomphuphuang and Chaowalit Songsangchote. Photo by Narin Chomphuphuang

In general, tarantulas from Southeast Asia can be either terrestrial or arboreal. Arboreal tarantulas spend time on different types of trees, but until now, researchers had not previously identified a tarantula found only on a specific tree type.

“These animals are truly remarkable; they are the first known tarantulas ever with a bamboo-based ecology,” Narin said.

Finding the new tarantula. Video by JoCho Sippawat

The tarantulas were discovered inside mature culms of Asian bamboo stalks (Gigantochloa sp.), with nest entrances ranging in size from 2–3 cm to a large fissure, within a silk-lined tubular burrow, either in the branch stub or in the middle of the bamboo culms. All the tarantulas found living in the culms had built silken retreat tubes that covered the stem cavity.

The tarantulas cannot bore into bamboo stems; therefore, they depend on the assistance of other animals. Bamboo is preyed upon by a variety of animals, including the bamboo borer beetle, bamboo worm, bamboo-nesting carpenter bee, and small mammals such as rodents. Furthermore, bamboo cracking is primarily caused by rapid changes in moisture content induced by the atmosphere, uneven drying, or drenching followed by rapid drying or by human activities. 

Taksinus bambus tarantula in its habitat. Photo by JoCho Sippawat

Taksinus is classified as a new genus within the Ornithoctoninae subfamily of Southeast Asian tarantulas. The discovery comes 104 years after Chamberlin defined the previous genus in this subfamily, Melognathus, in 1917.

What makes Taksinus distinct from all other Asian arboreal genera is the relatively short embolus of the male pedipalps, which is used to transport sperm to the female seminal receptacles during mating. In addition to morphology, its habitat type and distribution are also different from those of related species. While Asian arboreal tarantulas have been reported in Indonesia (Sangihe Island and Sulawesi), Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, and Borneo, Taksinus was discovered in northern Thailand, which is a new geographical location for those spiders.

Looking at an entrance hole of a bamboo culm tarantula. Photo by Narin Chomphuphuang

“We examined all of the trees in the area where the species was discovered. This species is unique because it is associated with bamboo, and we have never observed this tarantula species in any other plant. Bamboo is important to this tarantula, not only in terms of lifestyle but also because it can only be found in high hill forests in the northern part of Thailand, at an elevation of about 1,000 m. It is not an exaggeration to say that they are now Thailand’s rarest tarantulas,” says Narin.

Few people realize how much of Thailand’s wildlife remains undocumented. Thai forests now cover only 31.64% of the country’s total land area. We are primarily on a mission to research and save the biodiversity and wildlife within these forests from extinction, especially species-specific microhabitats.

Research article:

Songsangchote C, Sippawat Z, Khaikaew W, Chomphuphuang N (2022) A new genus of bamboo culm tarantula from Thailand (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae). ZooKeys 1080: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1080.76876

A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 2

While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.

Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.

5. The Instagram model

Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?

This is exactly what happened to Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Confined to his home in Chamba, India because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he started photographing any wildlife he came across and uploading it on his Instagram account. One of his images showed a beautiful kukri snake.

The picture immediately caught the attention of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), who worked together with Virendar to describe it as a new species under the name Oligodon churahensis.

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

4. The tiny snail with an athletic name

Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.

Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic.

Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.

The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.

To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.

Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.

“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”

Published in: Subterranean Biology

3. The Coronavirus caddisfly

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.

Scientists used this as a drive and inspiration as they continued their hard work on new discoveries. Only this year, we published the descriptions of the beetle Trigonopterus corona, the wasp Allorhogas quarentenus, and, yes, the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus.

P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its name will be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.

In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.

P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.

Published in: Biodiversity Data Journal

2. The cutest peacock spider ever

If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.

Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook. It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.

Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.

‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.

Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes

Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of
Darmstadt
and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.

Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”

Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.

This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.

“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.

Published in: ZooKeys

Guest blog post: Operation desert: crab and dwarf spider discovered on sand dunes in military area, Slovakia

Guest blog post by Pavol Purgat

For the first time in Slovakia, the dwarf spider Walckenaeria stylifrons and crab spider Spiracme mongolica were discovered on sand dunes in Záhorie Protected Landscape Area, on  localities that serve as a military complex, used by the native Slovak army. Moreover, the spider W. stylifrons was found in a wine-growing region near the historical town of Modra.

Scientists Pavol Purgat, Dr Peter Gajdoš, Natália Hurajtová, Institute of Landscape Ecology-Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia, and Dr Katarína Krajčovičová, Dr Adrián Purkart, Ľubomír Volnár, Faculty of Natural Sciences-Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia have published their paper, where they introduce two new spider species for Slovakia, in the open-access journal CheckList, the journal of biodiversity data.

Dwarf spider, Walckenaeria stilifrons

European continental sand dunes, characterized by high ground temperature, high temperature fluctuations and movement of sand masses, belong to the rare, climatically extreme areas resembling deserts. In Europe, lowland sandy grassland habitats are considered to be among the most endangered and are often the subject of nature conservation.

The researchers decided to understand the spider assemblages living in such extreme habitats in Western Slovakia. During 2018–2019, the study sites were chosen and co-called pitfall traps hidden in the ground were used to collect spiders.

Among other collected species, two spiders were found for the first time in Slovakia. The dwarf spider W. stilifrons is recorded from 15 European countries and it is known from Eastern England to Eastern Germany in the north, and from the Iberian Peninsula to the Crimea and Cyprus in the south. Within Central Europe, the species has so far been known from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The crab spider S. mongolica is known from Serbia to the European part of Russia. Its distribution in Asia extends from Central Asian part of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan to Mongolia and China. In China it is known only from Western Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang region.

Crab spider, Spiracme mongolica

Upon the detailed examination of male copulatory organs, the researchers found out that one of the species shares characters typical for the genus Spiracme, in consideration of that a new combination Spiracme mongolica for the spider previously known as Xysticus mongolicus was suggested.

In conclusion, the authors assume that W. stilifrons can live elsewhere in Europe. The rarity of the species may be related to the occurrence of adults, especially in the winter months, as most researchers are focused only on the growing seasons. The occurrence of S. mongolica in sand dunes in Slovakia confirms this species preference for dry habitats. The new finding of S. mongolica is the most known westernmost.

Research article:
Purgat P, Gajdoš P, Purkart A, Hurajtová N, Volnár Ľ, Krajčovičová K (2021) Walckenaeria stilifrons and Spiracme mongolica (Araneae, Linyphiidae, Thomisidae), two new species to Slovakia. Check List 17 (6): 1601-1608. doi: 10.15560/17.6.1601

On the amazing discovery of a new species and how to choose names for spiders

Guest blog post by Alireza Zamani

As someone who enjoys taking regular long walks, listening to podcasts has always been an irreplaceable source of pleasure for me. As an arachnologist and taxonomist, I had been hoping for years that someone would start a podcast dedicated to taxonomy and the discovery of new species. Thankfully, earlier this year Dr. L. Brian Patrick from Dakota Wesleyan University started such a project with the New Species Podcast, and the results are much, much better than what I’d been hoping for. I was particularly delighted when I got invited to the show to talk about a paper in which, together with my colleague Dr. Yuri M. Marusik, we described 17 new species of zodariid spiders from Iran and Turkmenistan.

Loveh region in northern Iran, where Mesiotelus patricki was found. Photo by Barbod Safaei-Mahroo

I first met Brian in person at the 19th International Congress of Arachnology in Taiwan in 2013, where we had a fruitful discussion about various collecting methods for spiders and other arthropods. I personally believe that it is of utmost importance that efforts like Brian’s to popularize taxonomy – especially in these trying times – should be publicly acknowledged. And what better way to acknowledge someone’s efforts in popularizing the discovery of new species than to actually dedicate a new species name to them? For this reason, together with my colleague Dr. Marusik we decided to name one of our newly discovered species of Iranian spiders after Brian, in recognition of his wonderful job on the production of the podcast.

Mesiotelus patricki. Photo by Alireza Zamani

I am deeply moved and flattered that anyone would name a species after me. I think they must have run out of ideas for specific epithets if they’re naming a species after me!

I am glad that the podcast has inspired at least a few people, and I am trying to help more people understand that dozens to hundreds of new species are described almost every day of the year. I want people to understand the process of biodiversity discovery and the lab and field work associated with that process. Most importantly, I hope that people recognize that we are losing species before we can even find them.

L. Brian Patrick

The new species is named Mesiotelus patricki and is a member of the family Liocranidae. Commonly known as spiny-legged sac spiders, this family is relatively poorly studied globally, with less than 300 currently recognized species; most liocranids are free-living ground-dwelling spiders that can be found within the forest litter and under rocks and stones, usually in well-vegetated habitats.

Loveh region in northern Iran, where Mesiotelus patricki was found. Photo by Barbod Safaei-Mahroo

In the same paper, we also described a new genus and another nine new species of spiders from Iran. Among these, Brigittea avicenna was named after the preeminent Persian polymath Avicenna, while Zagrotes borna and Zagrotes parla were named using Persian given names, meaning “young” and “glowing”, respectively.

It is noteworthy that all of the specimens used in this study had been collected in the 70s by Austrian and Swiss zoologists, and had been sitting on museum shelves for decades, waiting to be “discovered” and formally described. This clearly demonstrates the importance of natural history museums and the value of their scientific collections, as major institutes around the world house hundreds of thousands of undescribed species that are just out there, waiting to be named. We hope that efforts like Brian’s podcast would bring more attention to taxonomy and discovery of new species, as more and more people and investments are indeed needed in this field to unveil the magnificent biodiversity of our planet.

Editor’s note: Alireza will be a guest speaker in L. Patrick Brian’s New Species Podcast this Tuesday, August 17, to discuss the ten new species of spiders he and Yuri Marusik discovered and published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys. This is not his first appearance on the show – in May, he talked about another 17 new species of spiders he described. Other New Species Podcast highlights include booty-shaking peacock spiders, glow-in-the-dark caterpillars and a whole bunch of trapdoor spiders.

Trapdoor spiders named after Neil Gaiman, Peter Gabriel and Brandi Carlile among 33 new to science species

New species named after famous novelist Neil Gaiman, musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile are among thirty-three new trapdoor spiders described from across North and South America. Following the discovery, published in the openly accessible, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys, the known species in the genus Ummidia increased more than twice.

In a recent revision of the trapdoor spider genus Ummidia completed at the University of California, Davis, co-authors Dr. Rebecca Godwin (Piedmont University, GA) and Dr. Jason Bond (University of California, Davis, CA) described 33 new species found throughout North and South America. Their study is published in the openly accessible, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys. A number of these species were named after popular artists, including Neil Gaiman, Peter Gabriel and Brandi Carlile.

“I think anything we can do to increase people’s interest in the diversity around them is worthwhile and giving species names that people recognize but that still have relevant meaning is one way to do that,” says Dr. Godwin.

A male Ummidia brandicarlileae from Yucatán, Mexico

The newly described trapdoor spider Ummidia brandicarlileae is named after singer-songwriter and activist Brandi Carlile, and occurs in Yucatán, Mexico, where Carlile’s annual Girls Just Wanna Weekend Festival is held. The event was created to counter the lack of female representation at mainstream music festivals. 

A male Ummidia neilgaimani from Roanoke Co., Virginia, U.S.

Similarly, Ummidia neilgaimani is named after fantasy and horror writer, Neil Gaiman, author of a number of fantasy and horror books with spider-based characters, and a particular favorite of Dr. Godwin.

A male Ummidia gabrieli from Baja California Sur, Mexico

In addition to these pop culture references, Godwin and Bond named several species in honor of various people and places. The Pine Rockland trapdoor spider, found in southern Florida, is named after the critically endangered pine rockland habitat in which it is found. Ummidia paulacushingae is named for Dr. Paula Cushing, long-time collaborator and friend of Bond and friend, and mentor to Godwin. 

With the names of the new to science species, the authors were also able to shed light on lesser-known historical figures. Ummidia bessiecolemanae is named for Bessie Coleman (1892–1926), the first African American and Native American woman to obtain her pilot’s license. 

Trapdoor spiders are unique compared to most of the spiders that we are familiar with in that they don’t use silk to make a web. Instead, they live in burrows lined with silk and covered with a “trapdoor”. 

Trapdoor spiders in the genus Ummidia are actually very widespread—they can be found from Maryland west to Colorado through Mexico and Caribbean as far south as Brazil. However, because they spend most of their lives underground, people rarely ever encounter a trapdoor spider.  When trapdoor spiders are young, they leave their mother’s burrow and make one of their own. Females will spend their entire lives (which can be decades) in those burrows if they aren’t disturbed, but when a male spider matures (5 to 7 years of age), they emerge in search of females. This is when people are most likely to see them. 

“I am continually blown away by how little we know about what is out there living on this planet with us. Most people don’t even realize they are sharing their space with these creatures literally right under their feet”

Dr. Rebecca Godwin

“Given the fact that these spiders tend to have very limited ranges and have very low dispersal, entire species can be winked out of existence without us ever knowing they were here, and I find that kind of heartbreaking. Documenting the diversity of groups like Ummidia gives us knowledge we need to appreciate and conserve the rich and diverse life that surrounds us.” 

Research article:

Godwin RL, Bond JE (2021) Taxonomic revision of the New World members of the trapdoor spider genus Ummidia Thorell (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Halonoproctidae). ZooKeys 1027: 1-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1027.54888

Guest blog post: New ectoparasite records from Honduras came from bats recorded since 2015

Guest blog post by Manfredo Alejandro Turcios-Casco

Since its foundation in 2015, the research team “The Big Bat Theory” has filled important information gaps regarding bats and their ectoparasites in Honduras. We started as just bachelor students mist-netting bats in our university (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras- UNAH) in our free time. Then we studied a lot about their natural history, distribution, and ecology, and, without any financial support, we started to travel the country studying bats.

The early years of “The Big Bat Theory” research group

At that time, we did not know that many of those records, in the future, would be important for Honduras. After saving some money, we travelled to different departments of Honduras such as Francisco Morazán, Valle, Gracias a Dios, Comayagua, and Santa Bárbara. Then we found support from Marcio Martínez to get to know La Mosquitia, and we started studying bats in unexplored regions. Because of this initiative, we collaborated with bat ectoparasite specialist Gustavo Graciolli and bat specialist Richard Laval, which resulted in the publication of our research in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Check List.

As a result of this project, we were able to register for the first time the Spinturnicidae family in Honduras with the species Periglischrus iheringi and P. ojastii, a new record of Basilia ortizi (Nycteribiidae), Aspidoptera delatorrei, Strebla matsoni (found hosting Artibeus jamaicensis for the first time), and Neotrichobius bisetosus (Streblidae). The latter, previously only known from Venezuela, is the record with the northernmost locality published to date. We managed to increase the number of species of bat ectoparasites in Honduras to 48, which is 33 more than in Paraguay and 65 less than in Peru.

Species of ectoparasites recorded for the first time in Honduras: A) Periglischrus iheringi (Spinturnicidae); B) Periglischrus ojastii (Spinturnicidae); C) Aspidoptera delatorrei (Streblidae); D) Trichobius yunkeri (Streblidae); E) Basilia ortizi (Nycteribiidae); F) Neotrichobius bisetosus (Streblidae); G) Strebla matsoni (Streblide).

We definitely consider that this still misunderstood group needs more research effort locally and in general. Considering the lack of knowledge, the chances of discovering new species for the region, new records for the country or region, as well as new discoveries about the relationship and interactions with their hosts, are high. The number of bat species registered for Honduras is a predictor of the number of ectoparasite species that may exist. We also consider “La Reserva de la Biosfera del Río Plátano” an important site for the study of ectoparasites of bats. This is the most important area in Honduras for bat research and conservation, not only because of its high biodiversity, but also because it is a poorly studied region.

“We are very motivated to have carried out this study on new records of ectoparasites in bats, since it is the first investigation we do on this taxon, but we are sure that it will not be the last, since we have already begun to collect new data in collaboration with experts on this topic. We are sure that new discoveries still await us in this area, and we are eager to make new contributions and enrich the information on this taxon in Honduras and the world.”

Alejandro Orellana, co-author of the publication

***

Research paper:

Gustavo Graciolli G, Ávila-Palma HD, Ordoñez-Trejo EJ, Soler-Orellana JA, Ordoñez-Mazier DI, Martínez M, LaVal R, Turcios-Casco MA (2021) Additions of host associations and new records of bat ectoparasites of the families Spinturnicidae, Nycteribiidae and Streblidae from Honduras. Check List 17(2): 459–469. https://doi.org/10.15560/17.2.459

Two species and a single name: ‘Double identity’ revealed in a venomous banana spider

Phoneutria boliviensis in the Peruvian Amazon
Photo by N. Hazzi

Spiders from the genus Phoneutria – also known as banana spiders – are considered aggressive and among the most venomous spiders in the world, with venom that has a neurotoxic action. These large nocturnal spiders usually inhabit environments disturbed by humans and are often found in banana plantations in the Neotropical region. 

One of these spiders, P. boliviensis, is a medically important species widely distributed in Central and South America, whose behaviour, habitat, venom composition, toxicity and bites on humans have already been paid considerable attention in previous research work. Nevertheless, after examining a large pool of museum specimens, biologists from The George Washington University (N. Hazzi and G. Hormiga) began to wonder if samples named P. boliviensis were actually belonging to one and the same species. 

Everything started when N. Hazzi was examining specimens of banana spiders identified in the past by experts as P. boliviensis. The research team quickly realized that the morphological features currently used to identify this species were not sufficient. Then, they discovered two well-defined morphological groups of P. boliviensis that were separated by the Andean mountain range, a geographic barrier that separates many other species.

To prove that these two “forms” were different species, the authors conducted fieldwork in the Amazon, Andes, and Central America, collecting specimens of these venomous spiders to explore if the genomic signal also suggests two species. They discovered that genetic differences separating these two forms were similar compared to the genetic differences separating other recognized species of banana spiders. Using morphological, genomic and geographic distribution data, the authors concluded that P. boliviensis represents not a single species, but two different ones. They uncovered that the true P. boliviensis was only found in the Amazonian region, and the second species, P. depilata (an old name revalidated by the research team), was found in the Andes, Chocó and Caribbean regions. Their findings are published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

To obtain more distribution records for these species, the research team used the citizen science platform iNaturalist. Since the two species are among the few spiders that can be identified using only images, the platform turned out to be a very helpful tool. Data submitted by the iNaturalist community helped identify where the two species of Phoneutria are found. Curiously enough, for these two species, iNaturalist presented higher and more widely distributed records than the scientists’ own database. 

“To our knowledge, this is the first study that has used iNaturalist to gather occurrence records on venomous species to estimate distribution models,”

the researchers say.

This is how the two spiders can be distinguished using only photographs: P. boliviensis has two lateral white-yellow bands in the anterior area of the carapace, while P. depilata has four series of yellow dots in the ventral side of the abdomen. In addition, for P. depilata’s identification, information is needed on where the image was taken, because this is the only species of Phoneutria found in the Andes, Chocó, and Central America. However, the most reliable approach to identify these species requires examination under a stereomicroscope.  

Interestingly, P. depilata has been mislabeled as P. boliviensis throughout many studies, including works on venom composition and toxicity, ecology, geographic distribution, and human epidemiology of bites. There have been human bite records of this species reported in Costa Rica and in banana plantations in Colombia, most of them with mild to moderate envenomation symptoms. Except for brief anecdotal mentions by field explorers in the Amazon, little is known about P. depilata. 

Genetic evolutionary tree of the banana spiders genus Phoneutria
Photo by N.Hazzi

The study provides detailed diagnoses with images to distinguish both species and distribution maps. 

“This valuable information will help identify risk areas of accidental bites and assist health professionals in determining the identity of the species involved, especially for P. depilata. This is a significant discovery that will affect studies about toxicology, opening new opportunities to compare the venom composition and the effect of these two species,” the authors conclude.

Research article: 

Hazzi NA, Hormiga G (2021) Morphological and molecular evidence support the taxonomic separation of the medically important Neotropical spiders Phoneutria depilata (Strand, 1909) and P. boliviensis (F.O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1897) (Araneae, Ctenidae). ZooKeys 1022: 13-50. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1022.60571

French mathematician and spider aficionado Cédric Villani honoured with a new orb-weaver

Considered as one of the best studied spiders, the orb-weavers remain poorly known in the central parts of the Palearctic ecozone. Hence, an international research team took to the Caucasus, Middle East and Central Asia. Their article in the open-access peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys documents three new-to- science species, where one is named after the Indo-Iranian god of light Mithra. Another carries the name of the flamboyant French mathematician and spider aficionado Cédric Villani.

With their astonishingly precise spiral webs, orb-weaving spiders are the arachnid analogy of first-class mathematicians, note the researchers behind the study

Despite being considered as one of the best-studied spiders in the Palearctic, the orb-weaver spiders (family Araneidae) remain poorly known in the central parts of the ecozone. To bridge the knowledge gaps, an international research team of researchers took to the Caucasus, Middle East and Central Asia to study two of those genera: Araniella and Neoscona

As a result, in their article, recently published in the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys, arachnologists Alireza Zamani (University of Turku, Finland), Yuri M. Marusik (Institute for Biological Problems of the North RAS, Russia) and Anna Šestáková (The Western Slovakian Museum, Slovakia) describe three new-to-science species, where one: Araniella villanii – carries the name of the flamboyant French mathematician and spider aficionado Cédric Villani, who has been dubbed the “Lady Gaga of Mathematics”. Even if unknown until now, the species turned out to have a wide distribution, ranging from south-western Iran to eastern Kazakhstan and northern India. 

A female specimen of the newly described orb-weaver species Araniella villanii on its web (Kazakhstan)
Photo by Alireza Zamani

“It’s a well-known fact within the arachnological community that spiders are masters of mathematics and architecture. Orb-web spiders, in particular, tend to build beautiful and architecturally aesthetic webs, some of which are formed in spirals in line with the repetitive pattern of the golden ratio,”

explains lead author of the study Alireza Zamani.

The web of the garden orb-web spider Araneus diadematus, for example, usually has 25 to 30 radial threads forming an astonishingly precise angle of about 15°, which the spider carefully measures using its front legs. According to scientific observations, if the front legs are removed, the regularity of the angles between adjacent radial threads is impaired. 

A female specimen of the newly described orb-weaver species Araniella villanii on its web (Kazakhstan)
Photo by Alireza Zamani

For these and many other reasons, spiders must have been an inspiration for mathematicians like Cédric Villani, who has publicly shown a mysterious love for these arachnids. Awarded the Fields Medal (some say it is the Mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize) in 2010 and having served as the director of Sorbonne University‘s Institut Henri Poincaré from 2009 to 2017, the Frenchman’s love for spiders is quite evident, thanks to the constant presence of a spider brooch on his lapel. Although he has never explained the reason behind his appreciation of these eight-legged wonders, now he has a real, even scientifically sound connection to them in the real world. 

Apart from Araniella villanii, whose scientific name honours the prominent scientist and recognises his love for spiders, the other two newly-described species also have a story behind their names. One of them: Neoscona isatis, discovered in central Iran, was named after the historical name of its type locality; and Araniella mithra, known from north-western, central and south-western Iran, was named after Mithra, the god of light in the ancient Indo-Iranian mythology.

Curiously, spiders in the genus Araniella are green in colour due to certain bile pigments (biliverdin) that make them very difficult to spot in their natural habitat, as they live mostly on leaves.

French mathematician and spider aficionado Cédric Villani (left) with lead author and discoverer of the three new-to-science orb-weaver spiders Alireza Zamani (right) in Iran (2015)

“I met Mr. Villani in May 2015 at University of Tehran, where he was an invited speaker. We got to briefly talk about our shared interest in spiders, and I had the opportunity to present him an Iranian wolf spider as a souvenir!”

recalls Zamani.

“It’s important to note that, with the efforts of taxonomists, new species are being discovered and described with an average rate of 18,000 species per year, but simultaneously both known and undescribed species go extinct due to human activities, with the current rate being within or even higher than the range of the newly described ones. A first step towards conservation of biodiversity includes taxonomic research to document species and to define hotspots of species diversity in order to protect such carefully selected habitats,”

he points out.
A female specimen of the newly described orb-weaver species Araniella villanii in its natural habitat (Kazakhstan)
Photo by Anatoliy Ozernoy

“However, with the current situation of low funding for taxonomic research, the number of students doing taxonomic research is in severe decline and the current average ‘shelf life’ (between discovery and description) of a new species remains at about 21 years. Araniella villanii is a great example of how much we don’t know about our biodiversity.”

Despite being discovered all the time, new species mostly have very restricted ranges and are only known from a few nearby localities. Orb-weaver spiders have very good dispersal abilities and it is relatively uncommon to detect new species of them.

Araniella villanii is known from a few localities in southwestern Iran, eastern Kazakhstan and northern India, a distribution range covering at least ten countries, and yet the species was unknown to science until now. I think that the message that this particular discovery implies is that while there are such widely-distributed undescribed species out there, we need more and more taxonomic research, both in the field and in the natural history museum collections, which house a considerable number of undescribed species, in order to preserve the remaining biodiversity on earth, before it’s too late”.

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Original source:

Zamani A, Marusik YM, Šestáková A (2020) On Araniella and Neoscona (Araneae, Araneidae) of the Caucasus, Middle East and Central Asia. ZooKeys 906: 13-40. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.906.47978

Trendy on eight legs: Jumping spider named after fashion czar Karl Lagerfeld


Newly described ‘brushed’ jumping spider species Jotus karllagerfeldi and its famous namesake: fashion icon and designer, creative director, artist, photographer and caricaturist Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019).
Photos by Mark Newton, CeNak (
Jotus karllagerfeldi, CC-BY 4.0) and
Siebbi (Karl Lagerfeld, CC-BY 3.0). Modified by CeNak.

New to science species of Australian jumping spider was named after Hamburg-born fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019) after the arachnid reminded its discoverers of the designer. Intrigued by its distinct ‘downplayed’ black-and-white colours, the Hamburg-Brisbane-Melbourne team likened the spider’s appearance to Lagerfeld’s trademark style: his white hair and Kent collar that contrasted with the black sunglasses and gloves.

New to science species of Australian jumping spider was named after Hamburg-born fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019) after the arachnid reminded its discoverers of the designer. Intrigued by its distinct ‘downplayed’ black-and-white colours, the Hamburg-Brisbane-Melbourne team likened the spider’s appearance to Lagerfeld’s trademark style: his white hair and Kent collar that contrasted with the black sunglasses and gloves.

Thus, the curious species, now officially listed under the name Jotus karllagerfeldi was described in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics by Dr Danilo Harms of the Center for Natural History of the University of Hamburg (CeNak), Dr Barbara Baehr, Queensland Museum (Brisbane, Australia) and Joseph Schubert, Monash University (Melbourne).

Typically, the members of the jumping spider genus Jotus demonstrate striking red and blue colours.
Photos by Robert Whyte (Jotus fortiniae sp. nov., top row) and Michael Doe (unidentified species, bottom row), CeNak.

When compared with other members in the ‘brushed’ jumping spider genus Jotus, the novel species clearly stands out due to its black-and-white legs and tactile organs (pedipalps), whereas the typical representative of this group demonstrates striking red or blue colours.

“The animal reminded us with its colours of the reduced style of Karl Lagerfeld. For example, we associate the black leg links with the gloves he always wore”, Danilo Harms explains.


Newly described ‘brushed’ jumping spider species Jotus karllagerfeldi.
Photo by Mark Newton, CeNak

In fact, what was to be now commonly referred to as Karl Lagerfeld’s Jumping Spider was identified amongst specimens in the Godeffroy Collection. Kept at CeNak, the historical collection was originally compiled by the inquisitive and wealthy tradesman from Hamburg Johann Cesar Godeffroy, who financed several expeditions to Australia back in the 19th century. Here, the research team identified another link between Australia, Godeffroy, Hamburg and Jotus karllagerfeldi.

Besides the tiny (4 to 5 mm) arachnid, whose pedipalps resemble a white Kent collar, the scientists describe another seven new to science species and add them to the same genus. Two of those, Jotus fortiniae and Jotus newtoni, were also named after inspirational figures for their hard work and creativity: educator, molecular biologist and science communicator Dr Ellen Fortini (Perth College, Western Australia) and keen naturalist and photographer Mark Newton. All novel species were found either in the Godeffroy Collection or amongst the jumping spiders housed at Queensland Museum.

Surprisingly, even though the genus Jotus comprises numerous species found all over Australia, there is not much known about these spiders. An interesting feature, according to the scientists behind the present study, are the huge telescopic eyes, which allow for spatial vision. The Jotus species need this ability in foraging, since they do not weave webs, but rather hunt in the open. Thus, they have evolved into extremely fast and agile hunters, capable of jumping short distances.

Curiously, back in 2017, the team of Barbara and Danilo, joined by Dr Robert Raven from Queensland Museum, described another previously unknown, yet fascinating species: a water-adapted spider, whose sudden emergence at the coastline of Australia’s “Sunshine State” of Queensland during low tide in January brought up the association with reggae legend Bob Marley and his song “High Tide or Low Tide”. The species, scientifically known as Desis bobmarleyi, was also published in Evolutionary Systematics.

Female individual of the marine spider Desis bobmarleyi, named after reggae legend
Bob Marley. The species was also described in the open-access Evolutionary Systematics in 2017 by the team of Barbara and Danilo.
Photo by R. Raven.

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Find an interview (in German) with co-author Dr Danilo Harms on the University of Hamburg’s website.

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Original source:

Baehr BC, Schubert J, Harms D (2019) The Brushed Jumping Spiders (Araneae, Salticidae, Jotus L. Koch, 1881) from Eastern Australia. Evolutionary Systematics 3(1): 53-73. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.3.34496

As uniform as cloned soldiers, new spiders were named after the Stormtroopers in Star Wars

One of the newly described bald-legged spider species Stormtropis muisca. It is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. Image by Carlos Perafan.

The new species are amongst the very first bald-legged spiders recorded in Colombia

Despite being widely distributed across north and central South America, bald-legged spiders had never been confirmed in Colombia until the recent study by the team of Drs Carlos Perafan and Fernando Perez-Miles (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay) and William Galvis (Universidad Nacional de Colombia). Published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, their research paper describes a total of six previously unknown species inhabiting the country.

Four of the novel spiders were unable to fit into any already existing genus, so the scientists had to create a brand new one for them, which they called Stormtropis in reference to the Star Wars‘ clone trooper army known as Stormtroopers.

Considered to be amongst the most enigmatic in the group of mygalomorphs, the bald-legged spiders are a family of only 11 very similarly looking, small- to medium-sized species, whose placement in the Tree of Life has long been a matter of debate. In fact, it is due to their almost identical appearance and ability for camouflage that became the reason for the new bald-legged spider genus to be compared to the fictional clone troopers.

One of the most striking qualities of the bald-legged spiders (family Paratropididae) is their ability to adhere soil particles to their cuticle, which allows them to be camouflaged by the environment.

A bald-legged spider of the genus Paratropis in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

“The stormtroopers are the soldiers of the main ground force of the Galactic Empire. These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage, but with unskillful movements, like this new group of spiders,” explain the researchers.

“We wanted to make a play on words with the name of the known genus, Paratropis, and of course, we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest sagas of all time”, they add.

One of the new ‘stormtrooper’ species (Stormtropis muisca) is also the highest altitudinal record for the family. It was recorded from an elevation of at least 3,400 m in the central Andes. However, the authors note that they have evidence of species living above 4,000 m. These results are to be published in future papers.

In the course of their fieldwork, the researchers also confirmed previous assumptions that the bald-legged spiders are well adapted to running across the ground’s surface. The spiders were seen to stick soil particles to their scaly backs as a means of camouflage against predators. More interestingly, however, the team records several cases of various bald-legged species burrowing into ravine walls or soil – a type of behaviour that had not been reported until then. Their suggestion is that it might be a secondary adaptation, so that the spiders could exploit additional habitats.

In conclusion, not only did the bald-legged spiders turn out to be present in Colombia, but they also seem to be pretty abundant there. Following the present study, three genera are currently known from the country (AnisaspisParatropis and Stormtropis).

A bald-legged spider (Paratropis elicioi) in its natural habitat. Image by Carlos Perafan.

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Original source:

Perafan C, Galvis W, Perez-Miles F (2019) The first Paratropididae (Araneae, Mygalomorphae) from Colombia: new genus, species and records. ZooKeys 830: 1-32. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.830.31433