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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scientists Discover New Cave Spider Species… with Claws!


photo: Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM

by -- Daisy Yuhas

Meet Trogloraptor, fearsomeness incarnate. The creature more than lives up to its name—it is, in fact, an eight-legged showcase for scientific novelty. The spider somewhat resembles the brown recluse, famed for its flesh-necrotizing venom—but at four centimeters, Trogloraptor is about twice as large. In fact, this spider is an entirely new critter—just look at those legs, each ends in a curved, scythelike claw. Citizen scientists and arachnologists have uncovered these spiders in the caves of southwestern Oregon and old-growth redwood forests. As they report in ZooKeys, the discovery of Trogloraptor is a taxonomic wonder that establishes a new family, genus and species in the spider family tree.

Troglo's story begins with citizen scientists in the Western Cave Conservancy who spotted the strange spider in Oregon's caves. They sent specimens to researchers at the California Academy of Sciences where entomologist Tracy Audisio, a research fellow at the California Academy of Sciences, puzzled over the new find. After approaching every member of the arachnology lab, she and Charles Griswold, the academy's curator of arachnology, took the finding to arachnologists around the country. They combed through comparative anatomy, fossil records and genetic analyses in their efforts to place the new spider, only to conclude that the cave dweller has a totally unique lineage.

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