Science

18 New Pelican Spider Species Discovered In Madagascar

Flora and fauna hide some of the most diverse species ever discovered. A scientist has been studying hundreds of specimen coming from Madagascar and in that process, has found 18 new species belonging to an assassin, spider-eating pelican spider, which is equipped with tong-like jaws which help it effortlessly grab prey.

Pelican Spider
Image credit: Hannah Wood, Smithsonian

Hannah Wood, an arachnologist from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History gathered hundreds of pelican spider bodies in order to get more information regarding this species. She recorded 46 species, discovering that 18 of them haven’t yet been detailed. Wood and co-author Nikolaj Scharff wrote a review of the new species which was published in the journal ZooKeys.

Pelican spiders belong to a group of arachnids, and have gotten their name thanks to the pelican-like profiles. Madagascar is home to the most aggressive pelican spiders with the longest jaws. Although discovering and studying new species in Madagascar is difficult due to the island’s remote conditions, it is no secret that many species found on Madagascar live nowhere else. Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot, considering that over 90% of the discovered wildlife has only been found there.

“These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar,” Wood said in a press release.

Pelican spider or assassin spider?

What makes them unique is that, unlike other arachnids, pelican spider don’t make webs. Pelican spiders eat nothing but spiders. Also known as “assassin spiders,” pelican spiders mostly follow their prey at night and perform the attack with the part of the mouth with fangs. 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 California Academy of Sciences started an arthropod inventory in 2000, as the wildlife in Madagascar is not sufficiently studied. The inventory was filled with spiders and other invertebrates which have been collected on the island. In order to make her discovery, Wood studied the pelican spider which was in that collection, as well as some she collected.

Thought to be long-gone

The species were originally discovered in 1854, and the fossil was encased in 50-million-year-old amber. Initially, scientists thought that it had been extinct for a long time. However, when intrepid scientists found the living pelican spiders, they were dubbed “living fossils.”

Pelican spiders have barely changed through the evolution. 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.

Wood said that the spiders will help scientists comprehend their diversity, but also the history of their evolution. It is also important to cover Madagascar as a spot which has a high potential for new species to be discovered, the press release reported.