Scientists recently announced the discovery of a brand new species of armed spiders in a UNESCO World Heritage site in South China Karst, near Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan. The new species are cave dwelling, and have four eyes instead of eight. The event was widely heralded, but the five new spiders species is just the latest natural discovery.
Other discoveries of new species in recent times that rival the five spider species have included a night-blooming orchid, a tiny wasp and a snub-nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains.
The orchid is the sole night-blooming plant of the more than 25,000 orchid species. It was discovered two years ago in New Guinea. The flowers of this “night owl” begin to open around 10 pm and are closed the next morning, lasting only a short time. The species is rare, and thought to be endangered because its habitat is becoming increasing limited by logging in the region in which it was discovered.
The diminutive wasp, known as Kollasmosoma sentum, depends on ants to provide the initial nourishment for its young. Once it locates a victim, it dive bombs the unfortunate creature and deposits an egg inside it. The new host survives just a short time, becoming the first meal of the wasp’s larvae. Ants may attempt to thwart the air raid by waving their legs or try to protect themselves with their mandibles. The tiny wasp was discovered in Spain in 2012.
While the scientists were pleased to find the Chinese arachnids, it is evident that the five spider species are just the latest natural discovery. There are more.
A new species of large millipede is one. The creature’s common name is “wandering leg sausage,” but not many will be tempted to eat it. The wandering leg sausage isn’t the largest millipede on record, that distinction belongs to the 15 inch giant African millepede; but it is the largest in the Tanzania Eastern Arc Mountains where it was discovered in decaying wood at altitudes from 940 meters to a little more than a mile high.
Another arachnid joins the five spider species found in China. It is the brilliant iridescent blue tarantula discovered two years ago in Brazil’s Amazon basin. Survival of this Pterinopelma sazimai, as it is known in Latin, is threatened by loss of its habitat and an over-zealous pet trade. Further adding to its peril is the fact that the spiders live in a very limited environment – Brazil’s tabletop mountains, where rainfall amounts are greater and the soils are different from surrounding areas.
Perhaps the most famous natural discovery of modern times was that of the coelacanth in 1938. Until a live coelacanth was caught off the coast of South Africa, the species was thought to be extinct, having existed along with dinosaurs only in the earth’s Cretaceous period. Since then, more species have been caught and another species of coelacanth was discovered in 1999 in Indonesia. Their bad taste makes them worthless on the commercial market, but they are still very rare and their survival as a species is threatened.
With all the new species that have been identified in the past, it is obvious why it is said that the five spider species are just the latest discovery.
B. David Warner
ASU International Institute for Species Exploration