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Tue, Feb

Scientists Discover 18 New Spider-Hunting Pelican Spiders in Madagascar

Typography

In 1854, a curious-looking spider was found preserved in 50 million-year-old amber. With an elongated neck-like structure and long mouthparts that protruded from the “head” like an angled beak, the arachnid bore a striking resemblance to a tiny pelican. A few decades later when living pelican spiders were discovered in Madagascar, arachnologists learned that their behavior is as unusual as their appearance, but because these spiders live in remote parts of the world they remained largely unstudied—until recently.

In 1854, a curious-looking spider was found preserved in 50 million-year-old amber. With an elongated neck-like structure and long mouthparts that protruded from the “head” like an angled beak, the arachnid bore a striking resemblance to a tiny pelican. A few decades later when living pelican spiders were discovered in Madagascar, arachnologists learned that their behavior is as unusual as their appearance, but because these spiders live in remote parts of the world they remained largely unstudied—until recently.

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, curator of arachnids and myriapods Hannah Wood has examined and analyzed hundreds of pelican spiders both in the field in Madagascar and through study of pelican spiders preserved in museum collections. Her analysis, focused on spiders of the Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea genera, sorted the spiders she studied into 26 different species—18 of which have never before been described. Wood and colleague Nikolaj Scharff of the University of Copenhagen describe all 26 pelican spider species in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Zookeys.

Wood says pelican spiders are well known among arachnologists not only for their unusual appearance, but also for the way they use their long “necks” and jaw-like mouthparts to prey on other spiders. “These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar,” she said.

Read more at Smithsonian

Photo by Nikolai Scharff