Arachnid Expert Discovers 33 New Species of Spider
December 20, 2012

Arachnid Expert Discovers 33 New Species of Trapdoor Spiders

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Finding a new species of animal can be an inspiring and exhilarating experience. But can you imagine multiplying that exhilaration by 2, by 5, or by 10? What about by 33?

If you are Professor Jason Bond, a trapdoor spider expert, you probably did just multiply that exhilaration by 33. That´s because the Auburn University Museum of Natural History researcher has just published a report on his discovery of 33 new trapdoor spider species all from the American Southwest.

The new species all belong to one genus, Aptostichus, which previously only contained seven species. Bond said finding the 33 new species in the American Southwest, particularly California, was exciting and remarkable.

“California is known as what is characterized as a biodiversity hotspot. Although this designation is primarily based on plant diversity, the region is clearly very rich in its animal diversity as well,” Bond said in a statement. “While it is absolutely remarkable that a large number of species from such a heavily populated area have gone unnoticed, it clearly speaks volumes to how little we know of the biodiversity around us and that many more species on the planet await discovery.”

Like other trapdoor spider species, these new spiders are rarely seen because they spend their lives underground, living in burrows that are covered by trapdoors, made by the spider using mixtures of soil, sand, plant material and silk. The trapdoor protects the spider from view as it forages around the burrow entrance for potential meals.

The genus is found throughout many habitats in the southwest, including coastal sand dunes, chapparal, desert, oak woodland forests, and even in alpine settings in the Sierra Nevada highlands.

These were not Bond´s first spider discoveries. He had also discovered three other trapdoor spiders and described them in 2008. Interestingly, he had given two of these spiders popular monikers–one named for political satirist Stephen Colbert (A. stephencolberti) and another named for actress superstar Angelina Jolie (A. angelinajolieae).

The new spiders are also getting celebrity treatment with popular names, including one notable species being hailed as A. barackobamai, named for President Barack Obama, a reputed fan of Spiderman comics. Another is being named in honor of illusionist Penn Jillette (A. pennjillettei) and another for Mexican American and civil rights and labor activist Cesar Chavez (1927-1973).

Not all are being named for celebrities, however. One new species is being named A. anzaborrego for its only known habitat, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in southern Calif; and A. sarlacc, which is being named for a Star Wars creature from the fictional desert planet of Tatooine.

But perhaps the greatest name given to one of his spiders is the one he named for his daughter, Elisabeth.

“Elisabeth's spider is from an incredibly extreme desert environment out near Barstow, California that is the site of a relatively young volcanic cinder cone. The spiders make their burrows among the lava tubes that extend out from the cone — it is a spectacular place to visit but the species is very difficult to collect because the spiders build rather deep burrow among the rocks,” explained Bond.

Bond said the new “group of trapdoor spiders are among some of the most beautiful with which I have worked; species often have gorgeous tiger-striping on their abdomens. Aptostichus to my mind represents a true adaptive radiation — a classical situation in evolutionary biology where diversification, or speciation, has occurred such that a large number of species occupy a wide range of different habitats.”

Image 2 (below): Male specimen of Aptostichus barackobamai photographed live. Credit: Jason Bond (CC-BY 3.0)

Image 3 (below): Female specimen of Aptostichus atomarius photographed live. Credit: Jason Bond (CC-BY 3.0)