Researchers discover 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders

PelicanSpider2

PelicanSpider2

Wood says there are nearly certainly more spiders to be discovered. The pelican spider is both a "living fossil" and a "Lazarus taxon" (an organism that gives the appearance of being resurrected from prehistory because its fossils were found before living versions).

This odd family of spiders caught the attention of Hannah Wood, curator of arachnids and myriapods (millipedes and their relatives) at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and lead author on the new study. Instead, they hunt other spiders, and they're incredibly cruel about it. Also known as assassin spiders, they are found in Australia, South Africa - and Madagascar, where researchers have recently discovered 18 new species. Pelican spiders are also called "assassin spiders" because their diet consists entirely of other spiders, which they slowly stalk and devour. Madagascar sits at the heart of the pelican spider's ancestral origins, and Wood and study coauthor Nikolaj Scharff think it's likely that the spiders have had a dynamic evolutionary history in isolation.

Pelican spider or assassin spider?

Pelican spiders belong to a group of arachnids, and have gotten their name thanks to the pelican-like profiles. They're called pelican spiders because their big jaws resemble seabirds beaks, National Geographic explains. Although discovering and studying new species in Madagascar is hard due to the island's remote conditions, it is no secret that many species found on Madagascar live nowhere else. Pelican spiders eat nothing but spiders. 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.

Pelican spiders have barely changed through the evolution. The spiders swing their chelicerae away from their bodies in a rapid, 90-degree arc tojab the pincers into their prey.

Out of the 26 spiders that she sorted out, 18 species were found to be completely new ones which have never been seen before. Once they strike silk, they ever-so-carefully lure out the web's owner with a strategic pluck or two, then swiftly dispatch the victim with those long, rotating jaws, each tipped with a venomous fang. The current biodiversity crisis in the region threatens to even extinguish species not yet known to science, those perhaps much like the new contingent of pelican spiders.

Wood says fossilised remains of pelican spiders have turned up in the northern hemisphere but the distribution pattern of living examples - Madagascar, South Africa and Australia - suggests their ancestors were dispersed to these landmasses when the earth's supercontinent Pangaea began to break up around 175 million years ago.

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.

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