Four new species of huntsman spiders have been discovered in southern Africa

September 16, 2015, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
The new huntsman spider May bruno from southern Africa. © John Leroy

The arachnologist Dr Peter Jäger of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt has discovered a new genus from the family of huntsman spiders. He was able to describe a total of four new species within this genus, which occurs in South Africa and Namibia. Besides special setae at the tips of their feet, which likely prevent the animals from sinking into the sand, the eight-legged creatures are characterized by their interesting mating behaviour. The study was recently published in the scientific journal "African Invertebrates."

To discover a living in the South African deserts is a difficult feat; to study the spider in detail is almost impossible. The eight-legged animals are quick, nocturnal, and dwell in inconspicuous tunnels in the sand. "Fortunately, we have our collection that we can fall back on," says Dr Peter Jäger, arachnologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. In his lab, Jäger was now able to identify a new genus with four associated of huntsman spiders (Sparassidae). "The spiders of one species were collected in the year 2004 by my doctoral student at the time, Dirk Kunz, and I now described them together scientifically as May bruno." The name was assigned in the context of the bio-sponsorship program (www.biopat.de); a daughter uses it to honour her father. Molecular-genetic studies of Jäger's colleague Henrik Krehenwinkel confirmed that the animals belong to a .

The tips of the feet of these newly discovered desert dwellers with a leg span of 8 to 10 centimetres are particularly conspicuous. They contain unique tufts of setae with feathered tips. "They likely serve to prevent the animals from sinking into the sand and help them remain on the surface," speculates the spider researcher from Frankfurt. Jäger is well aware of the huntsman spiders' ingenuity when it comes to moving across the hot desert sand, at the latest since his discovery of a spider in this family that moves by means of flic-flacs or somersaults.

In addition, Jäger found yet another special trait in these spiders. All four females he inspected showed paired bite marks on their cephalothorax. "It is quite possible that these injuries were sustained during mating," explains Jäger, and he adds, "We were unable to find these marks on the males of the 'Love Bite Spider'". Jäger refuses to speculate about the meaning of such behaviour and hopes that his colleagues will be able to observe the copulation in the field. However, since only 6 out of 45,000 spider species worldwide have males injuring conspecific females during courtship or mating, it is a very interesting finding.

Special tufts of setae allow the spider to remain on the sand’s surface. Credit: Senckenberg/Kunz

These tunnels in the sand are the domicile of the desert spider. Credit: John Leroy

Explore further: World's first eyeless huntsman spider discovered

More information: Jäger, P. & Krehenwinkel, H. 2015. May gen. n. (Araneae: Sparassidae): a unique lineage from southern Africa supported by morphological and molecular features. African Invertebrates 56 (2): 365–392.

Related Stories

World's first eyeless huntsman spider discovered

August 9, 2012

A scientist from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt has discovered the first eyeless huntsman spider in the world. The accompanying study has been published by the scientific journal Zootaxa.

Nearly 500 new species discovered at Senckenberg

January 28, 2013

In the last two years scientists at the Senckenberg research institutes have discovered and described almost 500 new species. Taxonomy and scientific collections are among the most important focal points of the Senckenberg ...

Recommended for you

How quinoa plants shed excess salt and thrive in saline soils

September 21, 2018

Barely heard of a couple of years ago, quinoa today is common on European supermarket shelves. The hardy plant thrives even in saline soils. Researchers from the University of Würzburg have now determined how the plant gets ...

Basking sharks can jump as high and as fast as great whites

September 20, 2018

A collaborative team of marine biologists has discovered that basking sharks, hundreds of which are found off the shores of Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Scotland, can jump as fast and as high out of the water as ...

Decoding the structure of an RNA-based CRISPR system

September 20, 2018

Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has moved beyond the lab bench and into the public zeitgeist. This gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 holds promise for correcting defects inside individual cells and potentially healing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.