Guest blog post by Dr Alireza Zamani (@Arachno_AZ)
This species belongs to Chaetopelma, a relatively small genus, distributed in Crete, Sudan, and the Middle East, and one of the only two tarantula genera inhabiting the Mediterranean region.
Our discovery is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it marks the first record of this genus in Iran and the third known species of tarantulas in this country. Additionally, it extends the known range of Chaetopelma spiders by almost 350 km eastwards.
We named this species Chaetopelma persianum, paying homage to its occurrence in Iran, which has historically been known as Persia. As a potential common name, we suggest “Persian Gold Tarantula”, where we are also making a reference to the “woolly, golden hairs’’ on its carapace.
For the purpose of our study, we only had one specimen: a female with a leg span of almost 9 cm, available. Yet, its distinct characteristics allowed us to confidently differentiate it from other known Chaetopelma species.
This tarantula is an obligate burrower and inhabits high elevations in well-vegetated mountainous regions of the northern Zagros Mountains. The holotype specimen was collected from a self-made ground burrow on sloped rocky ground, amidst sparse low vegetation and grasses.
It all started with local nature enthusiast Mehdi Gavahyan, who photographed a wandering male and sent me the photo. When I figured it was most likely an undescribed species, I asked him to team up with Amir Hossein Aghaei, a nature enthusiast and a friend of mine, and send me specimens of these spiders for further examination. Unfortunately, they only managed to collect that one female. However, it turned out to be enough for us to describe the Persian Gold Tarantula!
Additionally, thanks to local citizen scientists and naturalists, we later also got hold of photos of another two males of the same genus, taken very close to the type locality of the new species: one in Sardasht in West Azerbaijan Province of Iran, and the other in the surroundings of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq. While it is highly probable that both these males belong to Ch. persianum, this cannot be confirmed until further examination of collected material from both sexes is conducted.
Burrow of Persian Gold Tarantulas in West Azerbaijan Province, Iran. The arrow in the photo on the right indicates the location of the burrow. Photos by Amir Hossein Aghaei.
During our research, we also noted that one species of Chaetopelma described from Cameroon is misclassified and should be transferred to another genus. However, this transfer is pending until the type material undergoes examination.
Looking ahead, we believe that more comprehensive investigations employing integrative methods would greatly benefit the taxonomy of Chaetopelma.
For example, Ch. olivaceum, a species with seven junior synonyms and one of the broadest ranges within the entire family, covering an area of approximately 1,493,978 km2, might potentially have cryptic species within its range. Moreover, the disjunct distribution of Ch. olivaceum in Turkey, where it occurs both in the southern regions and as far north as Istanbul, raises the possibility of distinct species status for the latter population, which is geographically isolated from the rest of the recorded occurrences. Integrative studies incorporating molecular data could offer insights into this.
Additionally, further collection efforts in lesser-sampled or completely unexplored regions, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, eastern Turkey and western Iran, could lead to the discovery of additional Chaetopelma species or records. These findings would be instrumental in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the taxonomy and distribution of this genus.
Zamani A, West RC (2023) A new species of Chaetopelma Ausserer, 1871 (Araneae, Theraphosidae) from Iran. ZooKeys 1174: 75-84. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1174.109135
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