August 17, 2012
Close-up of the remarkable, raptor-like claws of Trogloraptor. Photo by: Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM.
"This is something completely new," lead author of a paper on the species, Charles Griswold with the California Academy of Sciences, told SFGate. "It's a historic event."
The discoverers, who published their description paper in the open-access journal Zoo Keys have named the new species Trogloraptor, which translates loosely to "cave robber," and they have dubbed a new spider family—Trogloraptoridae—to accommodate what they believe is a primitive spider. The full species name is Trogloraptor marchingtoni after one of its discoverers.
Male Trogloraptor in the lab. Photo by: Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM.
Spanning four centimeters with extended limbs, the spider spins sparse webs on cave ceilings. The researchers consider it is most closely related to goblin spiders, but more primitive still. Almost nothing is known about the new species' behavior; even what it eats remains a mystery. In fact, the researchers have tried feeding captured spiders various foods, but to date the arachnids have refused the offerings and perished. Still, its sickle claws suggest that Trogloraptor marchingtoni is a stupendous hunter.
While the spider was first discovered in caves near Grants Pass, Oregon, individuals have recently been found in the forests of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California.
Tens-of-thousands of new species are discovered every year, but uncovering a new 'family' is a very rare occurrence. Taxonomic families often cover large groups of animals; for example, all of the world's cats, from tigers to domestic pets, belong to one family, the Felidae.
A better look at the head. Photo by: Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM.
Leg and claw. Photo by: Griswold CE, Audisio T, Ledford JM.
CITATION: Charles E. Griswold, Tracy Audisio, Joel M. Ledford. An extraordinary new family of spiders from caves in the Pacific Northwest (Araneae, Trogloraptoridae, new family). ZooKeys 215: 77–102, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.215.3547
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