New Pelican Spider Species Discovered In Madagascar

Mindy Sparks
January 13, 2018

The study informed that the pelican spiders are active hunters and they reach to their spider prey swiftly with the help of long silk draglines. The latest study was led by veteran aranchologist Hannah Wood of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Wood analyzed and scrutinized more than hundreds of pelican spiders both from field research in Madagascar and from the pelican spiders kept preserved in museum. They're called pelican spiders because their enormous jaws resemble seabirds beaks, National Geographic explains.

Pelican spiders are a group of arachnids known for their pelican-like profiles and taste for spider-meat. As their victim struggles and potentially tries to attack their captor, the pelican spider keeps them at arm's length as they die from an injection of deadly venom. All of the pelican spiders that Wood described live only in Madagascar. "These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar", Wood said in a press release. These spiders also occur in Australia and South Africa; however, the species with the longest "necks" occur in Madagascar. 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 weird hunters in unprecedented detail.

After studying hundreds of specimens from Madagascar, a scientist has discovered 18 new species of one of the most freakish spiders on the planet: the spider-eating "pelican spider" that uses salad tong-like jaws to snatch prey.

The "assassin" spiders are called pelican spiders because of the way their jaws resemble the seabirds' beak.

The discovery drives home just how much native biodiversity may remain undiscovered in Madagascar. Instead, they only hunt and kill other types of spiders. In doing so, Wood was able to define 26 species from the island - 18 of which had never been described before.

The California Academy of Sciences started an arthropod inventory in 2000, as the wildlife in Madagascar is not sufficiently studied. However, when intrepid scientists found the living pelican spiders, they were dubbed "living fossils".

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 weird features evolved to do.

Wood noted that as with most things, this hunch has yet to be tested experimentally with pelican spiders themselves, saying she has not yet seen a pelican spider eat one of its own. Additionally, they are considered "Lazarus taxa" which means that they were previously thought to be long gone, similarly to the coelacanth, which was thought to be extinct for millions of years. The new species add to scientists' understanding of that diversity, and will help them investigate how pelican spiders' unusual traits have evolved.

"They wander through the forest at night and they wave their first pair of legs like a pair of large antennae", scientist Hannah Wood said.

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