Blind Spider Discovery Halts Development Of Texas Highway

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

What has eight legs, is no bigger than a dime, and can stop a $15-million-dollar highway construction project? Why of course, it´s a Braken Bat Cave Meshweaver!

It seems the San Antonio, Texas underpass project was halted when the rare spider was discovered after rain exposed a 6-foot-deep natural hole in a highway median at Texas 151 and Loop 1604. The endangered arachnid, which had not been seen in more than 30 years, gave biologists a chance to rejoice for the chance discovery.

While the find is a significant one for science, area commuters will likely not be pleased as the discovery has halted the construction project indefinitely–in the battle of highway vs. nature, nature wins.

The Zara Environmental biologist who found the tiny critter was working as a consultant for the Texas Department of Transportation on the road project. Construction has been under way since April, but will now cease after a taxonomist confirmed late last week that the spider was in fact the endangered Meshweaver, named for the type of web it weaves. It was added to the Federal endangered species list in 2000, along with eight other “karst invertebrates” found only in Bexar County.

Because the region where the underpass project was ongoing is steeped with natural resources, such as songbirds and cave animals, biologists were on scene to observe and preserve, said Stirling J. Robertson, biology team leader for the Texas DOT´s environmental affairs division.

But finding a species of spider that has not been seen in three decades was something biologists, and perhaps the DOT, had not expected. It was like “stumbling on a new Galapagos Island in terms of the biological significance of the region,” said biologist Jean Kreica, president of Zara Environmental.

To confirm the spider was a Meshweaver, biologists dissected it, which is permitted for the identification of endangered animals by someone with a federal permit. No other spiders have yet to turn up in the hole where this one was found. However, the region could have other holes with potentially more meshweavers like this one.

The Braken Bat Cave Meshweaver was first identified by hydrogeologist George Veni in 1980 in northwestern Bexar County, about 5 miles from the construction site. The species´ scientific name, Cicurina venii, is in honor of him. After Veni´s discovery in 1980, the hole was filled and later a housing development was erected. The spider has not been seen since“¦ that is until less than two weeks ago.

Robertson believes the entire region could be a Meshweaver spider habitat. Biologists have discovered 19 cave features, similar to holes, while working on the underpass project. Biologists have spotted other spider species, of which none are endangered, in five of those features.

Both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Highway Administration had approved the construction project, which was expected to take more than a year to complete. But the spider discovery will now likely keep that project from ever finishing.

Both agencies are now re-evaluating the project to come up with a plan that doesn´t disturb the Meshweaver´s habitat. It is too early to tell what options are available, TxDOT San Antonio District spokesman Josh Donat said in a statement.

While TxDOT is all about enhancing roadway safety and easing congestion, it is also about being “good stewards of our natural resources,” he added.

Robertson said the rare spider discovery will help biologists learn more about the life history and habits of these eyeless creatures, as well as other animals in the region.

As investigation of the spider habitat continues, biologists covered the hole where the Meshweaver was found, trying to keep the temperature and humidity stable.