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Scientists discover new assassin spider species in Madagascar

Scientists discover new assassin spider species in Madagascar

While pelican spiders don't spin webs, sometimes you'll find them hovering over another spider's lair. 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. The pelican spiders are actually very tiny and are as long as a grain of rice.

In a new study, scientists have discovered 18 new species of pelican spiders.

The first pelican spider ever discovered, in 1854, was encased in 50-million-year-old amber. 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. All of the pelican spiders that Wood described live only in Madagascar. These spiders also occur in Australia and South Africa; however, the species with the longest "necks" occur in Madagascar. If you're a spider, you know exactly what I'm describing - a beast, which, at least to smaller spiders, is an otherworldly, eldritch terror: the pelican spider. But it turns out that in Madagascar there are spiders that have more to fear than just humans: "Assassin" spiders are lurking all over, and they tend to kill their own kind. Wood and co-author Nikolaj Scharff wrote a review of the new species which was published in the journal ZooKeys. Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot, considering that over 90% of the discovered wildlife has only been found there. 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. Her analysis, focusing on spiders of the Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea genera, sorted the spiders into 26 different species - most of which have never before been described.

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Because Madagascar's wildlife is so poorly studied, the California Academy of Sciences launched an arthropod inventory in 2000, filling it with spiders and other invertebrates collected from throughout the island.

Wood examined collections from expeditions to the island and her own fieldwork, making detailed measurements and observations of their physical and ecological characteristics, trying to piece together their interrelationships and their place in the local environment. But when intrepid scientists discovered live members of this group of spiders, they were deemed "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 freakish features evolved to do. The new species of pelican spiders have same elongated neck and beak-like pincers or chelicerae like other pelican spiders. 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.


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