As humans wade into nature’s domain more than ever before, we’re discovering vast new swaths of species we never knew existed. Spiders, in particular, have taken center stage as new discoveries of largely unknown arachnids, in all shapes and sizes, come to light.
Is this the foreboding spiderpocalypse we’ve all been waiting for? Well, not quite. But let’s explore these new arrivals anyway. Recently in China, researchers discovered five new species simply by wandering into a cave. Here, ‘armored’ spiders belonging to the Tetrablemmidae family were found scuttling around on the floors of the cave. While the term ‘armored spiders’ may bring up visions of super-arachnids that can’t be squashed, in fact they are considered ‘armored’ because the intricate patterns on their abdomen resembles old fashioned body armor. Another distinguishing factor of these creatures? A large backside, giving these spiders a rather zaftig appearance.
The team of researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has encountered hundreds of cave dwelling spiders that range from completely blind to having four eyes. These creepy crawlers spend their days dashing along the damp cave floors, hiding under leaves and moss. The findings took place in South China’s Karst region, which includes three provinces and is a designated UNESCO Heritage Site. The diverse ecology of the region, including humid forests, unexplored caves and myriad of dark, damp areas make it a veritable spider paradise. So it should come as no surprise that the discovery of known spider species in the region has soared in the past few years.
A world away in the Amazon, bizarre web formations in Peru were discovered by graduate student Troy Alexander. They included a thick ‘tower formation’ surrounded by what looks like a white picket fence. Having no idea what it was, he posted pictures across message boards trying to find a hit. Experts weighed in with their experts opinions and came up with, well, nothing.
The real discovery didn’t come until they actually just sat and watched what happened. For days they stayed in the jungle, just waiting. Yet no movement appeared on the web. Finally, after carefully removing three webs, and watching them under glass, tiny brown spiderlings began to emerge. Although researchers still have no idea what species makes these web-towers, they’ve found more than 50 formations in the wild.
In Australia, a little spider belonging to the goblin spider family was recently discovered in Queensland. Dubbed the ‘jellybean spider’ with its brown-reddish hue and somewhat transparent armored belly, this tiny arachnid was found wandering around the rainforests of the Bunya Mountains.
Meanwhile in Borneo, students on a class project found tiny red and black spiders crawling along the forest floor. A microscope, rigged to an iPhone of all things, was used to determine a brand new species making webs amongst the fallen leaves.
Yet of all the new spider species discovered in 2014, nothing quite compares to last year’s discovery in Sri Lanka.
In the dark, dilapidated quarters of an old abandoned hospital, a monster appeared. This venomous spider, which is the size of a human face, and moves faster than most tarantulas, was confirmed as a new species. This Goliath of an arachnid is usually found hanging out on the trunks of old trees.
However, the deforestation of northern Sri Lanka had prompted some of these spiders to move into older homes and crumbling lots, where it was discovered by locals (and later shown to scientists). The distinct markings of the female, including yellow spots on the legs, and a pink stripe around the body, has made it one of the most fascinating discoveries as of yet.
And although we joke about spiders being monsters, lurkers, and creepy crawlers, spiders are in fact a tremendous part of our Earth’s ecosystem. In many parts of the world, nonvenomous spiders are considered part of the household, catching unwanted pests and the far more dangerous mosquitoes that plague homes.
They have been around for 400 million years, and will likely inhabit Earth long after humans have left it. Each new discovery tells us a little more about our planet and how these fascinating creatures evolve and adapt, and for that they’ve earned our respect and protection.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m fairly sure something is crawling up my leg right now.