New Pelican Spider Species Discovered In Madagascar

18 new species of spiders that look like pelicans

Wood said, "These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar".

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 are active hunters - hence the name "assassin" - feeding exclusively on other spiders. Its favorite meal: other spiders. Also known as assassin spiders, they are found in Australia, South Africa - and Madagascar, where researchers have recently discovered 18 new species. After finally reaching the edge of another spider's web, pelican spiders can wait for hours for the right time to strike (earning them the moniker "assassin spiders"). 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. Now, new research published today in the journal ZooKeys details the discovery of a whopping 18 new species of pelican spider from Madagascar. The most striking pelican spiders, with the longest jaws, only live in Madagascar. After analyzing the genitals, the scientists confirmed that they have discovered 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders. This, combined with its mouthparts - which are lengthened into folding, salad tong-like abominations - give the spider a profile that evokes the gawkiness of a pelican. Rather than spinning their own webs, they prefer to stalk the trails of silk left behind by other spiders scuttling around their leafy habitats. The Pelican spiders are spiders that eat other spiders.

Pelican spiders have barely changed through the evolution. Her analysis, focusing on spiders of the Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea genera, sorted the spiders into 26 different species - most of which have never before been described. The highly modified head and carapace allows for extremely manoeuvrable jaws that can be extended 90 degrees away from the body to attack spider prey at a distance. Thanks to the spider's long necks and pincers, they keep their prey held harmlessly at arm's length while deadly venom pumps through the predators' chelicerae and into their victims. The new species add to scientists' understanding of that diversity, and will help them investigate how pelican spiders' unusual traits have evolved.

18 new species of spiders that look like pelicans

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 noted that as with most things, this hunch has yet to be tested experimentally with pelican spiders themselves, saying she has not yet seen a pelican spider eat one of its own.

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