- A new electric-blue tarantula species, Chilobrachys natanicharum, has been described by scientists in Thailand, making it the first-known tarantula species in Thai mangroves.
- Researchers from Khon Kaen University and wildlife YouTuber JoCho Sippawa found these vibrant blue tarantulas in the muddy conditions of Phang Nga province’s mangrove forest.
- The spider’s vivid blue coloration is created not by pigments but by nanostructures on the tarantula’s hairs that manipulate light and produce an iridescent effect.
- The researchers are concerned about the tarantulas’ mangrove habitats being cleared for oil palm cultivation.
Researchers have described a new electric-blue species of tarantula from Thailand. The vibrant tarantula (Chilobrachys natanicharum) was known from the pet trade but hadn’t been seen in nature by scientists. Researchers say it’s the first known tarantula species found in Thailand’s mangroves.
A team from Khon Kaen University in Thailand, led by Narin Chomphuphuang along with JoCho Sippawat, a local wildlife YouTuber with more than 3 million subscribers, found the species on an expedition in 2022. Their findings were published in the journal ZooKeys.
While surveying Phang Nga province, the researchers spotted the brilliant blue tarantulas on trees in the mangrove forest. Though easily spotted, catching them was something else.
“Collecting them was challenging due to the muddy and waterlogged ground,” Narin said. “These tarantulas inhabit hollow trees, and the difficulty of catching an electric-blue tarantula lies in the need to climb a tree and lure it out of a complex of hollows amid humid and slippery conditions. During our expedition, we walked in the evening and at night during low tide, managing to collect only two of them.”
The species name, natanicharum, was chosen through an auction to benefit cancer patients and the education of Indigenous Lahu children.
“Our primary goal is to raise awareness globally about the Lahu people, an Indigenous hill tribe in northern Thailand, who are still in need of educational support,” Narin told Mongabay. “JoCho Sippawat, being a member of the Lahu community, has a unique opportunity to help Lahu children who lack access to education.”
The spider’s vivid blue coloration is created not by pigments but by nanostructures on the tarantula’s hairs that manipulate light. This produces an iridescent effect that shifts captivatingly with the viewing angle. Hues of violet are also present in areas like the chelicera (mouth), carapace (upper body) and leg segments.
Scientists say they’re not sure why some tarantulas evolved to be blue. One idea is that male blue tarantulas may look more attractive to female tarantulas. But tarantulas can’t see color well, so they probably don’t communicate through color. Other ideas are that the blue helps tarantulas hide from predators, or signals to predators that they’re toxic.
Tarantulas, from the family Theraphosidae, come in many colors, including black, green, red and yellow, and these colors depend on the species and their habitats. “Remarkably, this study has revealed that blue coloration has independently evolved in at least eight different tarantula species. This suggests that blue coloration serves some significant purpose,” Narin said.
Unlike related tarantulas that live exclusively in bamboo, researchers say this species shows “remarkable adaptability.” It thrives in arboreal and terrestrial burrows within mangrove and evergreen forests at elevations up to 57 meters (187 feet).
Narin said he’s concerned about the tarantulas’ mangrove habitats, as forests are being cleared for oil palm cultivation. “One year after our discovery, we have observed that many areas have been destroyed for agricultural purposes,” Narin told Mongabay.
This particular mangrove forest straddles two districts heavily affected by deforestation: Khura Buri and Takua Pa. According to satellite data from monitoring platform Global Forest Watch, Khura Buri lost 13% of its forest cover between 2002 and 2022, while Takua Pa lost 19%. Preliminary data for 2023 show several large, fresh incursions this year.
Habitat destruction and hunting have severely impacted local tarantula populations in Thailand. As a result, all Theraphosidae species in Thailand were classified as controlled wildlife in 2022 by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. This means permits are required from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation to export or import any tarantulas.
“It is essential to take these steps to prevent further declines in tarantula populations and protect them for future generations,” the paper states.
The authors say that protected areas and management plans for the tarantulas and their habitats are critical, as is systematic monitoring to assess populations. They urge legal tarantula breeders to participate in Thai tarantula conservation projects.
They also advocate for mangrove forest protection for the tarantula and preserving the entire ecosystem harboring this “jewel of the forest.”
Banner image is a close up of Chilobrachys natanicharum, courtesy of Yuranan Nanthaisong.
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay and holds a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Tulane University, where she studied the microbiomes of trees. View more of her reporting here.
Read more about new species from Thailand:
Chomphuphuang, N., Sippawat, Z., Sriranan, P., Piyatrakulchai, P., & Songsangchote, C. (2023). A new electric-blue tarantula species of the genus Chilobrachys Karsh, 1892 from Thailand (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae). ZooKeys, 1180, 105-128. doi:10.3897/zookeys.1180.106278
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