Experts have discovered two murderous spiders previously thought to be extinct living on a remote patch of an island off the Australian coast.
They were spotted on a small patch of unburned part of Kangaroo Island, in the northwest region.
Evidence of spiders (sometimes known as pelican spiders, due to their unique appearance) had only been seen in the Western River Wilderness Protection Area on Kangaroo Island, which was badly damaged during the Australian war. bush fires that ravaged the continent in 2019 and 2020.
Spiders belong to the species Zephyrarchaea austini – which has been around for over 140 million years, dating back to the Jurassic period.
Experts have discovered two previously thought extinct murderous spiders living on a remote patch of an island off the Australian coast
They were spotted on a small patch of an unburned part of Kangaroo Island in the northwestern part.
The discovery of the two spiders on the remote atoll is seen as a breakthrough, according to Dr Jessica Marsh, a research associate at the South Australian Museum, who was part of the find.
“This is the first time the species has been discovered since high intensity fires burned down their only known collection location,” Dr Marsh said in a report. declaration.
“We’ve been looking for spiders since the fires, so it was an amazing feeling to finally find one.”
Assassin spiders are sometimes referred to as pelican spiders, due to their unique appearance
In 2019 and 2020, bushfires in Australia destroyed a fifth of the continent’s forests
Marsh noted that the spider lives in a “leaf litter” that reaches a person’s knee height in low vegetation and is typically found near streams in open eucalyptus vegetation communities.
This is considered “highly flammable”, although fires in these areas are not as severe as those experienced in Australia in 2019 and 2020, during which a fifth of the continent’s forests have been destroyed.
“A section of the Western River Wilderness Protection Area was burned in a prescribed burn in 2015 and was unaffected by the 2019/20 bushfires,” Marsh explained.
“Post-fire studies in the area revealed that the raised litter layer has still not formed in the vegetation and that no habitat for murderous spiders has been found, illustrating how even more serious low and planned burns may pose a threat to this species.
“It also highlights its vulnerability, due to the time it takes for suitable habitat to recover after a fire.
‘Like other species of murderous spiders, the [Kangaroo Island] the species has a very small range and restricted dispersal abilities, making it particularly vulnerable to major threats, such as prescribed and wild bushfires, feral pigs, and increased fragmentation of native vegetation. ‘
They were spotted on a small patch of an unburned part of Kangaroo Island, in the North West region.
Assassin spiders are exceptional predators, which not only prey on other species of spiders, but also do so at night.
In 2018, the experts identified 18 new species of pelicans spiders in Madagascar.
Spiders are no bigger than a grain of rice and have been around for 165 million years.
They have an elongated neck-like structure and long mouthparts – called chelicerae.
They are found in South Africa, Australia and Madagascar.
The creatures hardly changed and were called “living fossils”.
They have been around for at least 165 million years and potentially since before the Pangea supercontinent broke up 200 million years ago.
They do not make webs, but hunt other spiders and kill them with their large pincers.
In total, it is believed that there are 26 species of pelican or murderous spiders, including the 18 discovered three years ago.
Pelican spiders live in South Africa, Australia and Madagascar and were first found in a 50 million year old block of amber in 1854.
They were thought to be extinct until the animals were spotted on the island of Madagascar in 1881.
These spiders date back to the Jurassic Period over 140 million years ago and play an important role in the ecosystem despite their small size, ranging from two to eight millimeters.
Dr Marsh said more research is needed to learn more about endangered species.
“Both spiders were found in a single lot of leaf litter; therefore, we need to undertake further studies to find other populations on the island and better identify and manage any threat, before we can be sure of its existence, ”explained Marsh.
Their name comes from their elongated neck-shaped structure and their mouthparts that protrude from their heads like an angled beak.
Pelican spiders stalk their prey on their six hind legs and lift their two front legs into the air to detect the web of their next kill.
The “assassins” follow the traces of silk left by other spiders until they reach their web.
They then wait patiently to locate their victim, before impaling him quickly with their long “jaws” or chelicerae.
The spiders then hold the captured creature away from their body, keeping themselves safe from potential counterattacks, until their victim dies.
Modern pelican spiders are described as “living fossils” and have hardly changed from the ancient relics found in the late Jurassic.
Researchers believe spiders may have existed as long as the super continent Pangea, which began to disintegrate 200 million years ago.
They then spread to different continents with the break-up of Pangea, which began around 175 million years ago.
Madagascar has long produced unique animal species and has been studied extensively by scientists in a variety of fields.
Despite the incredible biodiversity and being an ecological gold mine, the island suffers from widespread deforestation and habitat loss.