Fifty new species of spider discovered in far north Australia
New arachnids found in Queensland include brush-footed trap-door spider, which looks like a funnel web and can walk up glass doors.
More than 50 new species of spider, including a peacock spider with a “wonderful courtship behaviour, like dancing”, have been discovered in Queensland Australia’s Cape York region, during a 10-day trip by scientists from the Queensland Museum.
The new arachnids, which are now being formally classified, include a brush-footed trap-door spider, a large black creature that looks like a funnel web with the added power of being able to walk up glass doors; a new species of swift spider, with fuzzy black and white front legs; and several new species of ant spider.
It is the most new spiders ever discovered on a research trip by Bush Blitz, an Australian government funded ecological research body. Bush Blitz has funded 34 similar surveys and discovered almost 1,200 new species since being established four years ago, of which 201 have been spiders.
Dr Barbara Baehr, a research biologist at the Queensland Museum, said the ecological richness of the area, combined with a successful wet season which had made the area green and thriving, meant they were discovering new species every day.
“It’s so vibrant – so many spiders are out there,” she told Guardian Australia. “When you just cup leaf-litter together, it’s crazy.”
(A brush-footed trap-door spider, one of more than 50 new species of spider discovered by scientists in a 10-day trip to Cape York last month. Photograph: Bush Blitz)
Of particular interest to Baehr was a new species of peacock spider, which has “a wonderful courtship behaviour, like dancing,” and a new species of jumping spider, which also danced.
“Jumping spiders have a nice courtship behaviour: they dance for their women,” she said. “I once described one after Mao’s Last Dancer because I had seen the ballet and it danced like that. There is a lovely side to spiders, there’s not just a terrible, dangerous side.”
Baehr is now in the process of describing a number of spiders for formal scientific classification. Over her career she has described 600 new spider species, including 250 new species of ant spider.
There are about 3,500 known species of spider in Australia and anywhere between 7,000 and 15,000 yet to be formally classified.
With the exception of a redback spider or a funnel-web, Baehr said, most will not hurt more than a bee sting, and will not attack at all “if you don’t pinch them”.
“I am from Germany, and I came over because of that richness of fauna here, and because it’s like a paradise for biologists,” she said. “I think Australians, they aren’t aware of it that much, they just live here.”
The research expedition was conducted on Quinkan country, near Cooktown, which is currently being considered for national heritage listing. It is the first time the area has been biologically surveyed.
Brad Grogan, manager of the Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, whose rangers and traditional owners guided the research, said it provided valuable information about the conservation values of the area.
“Hopefully this expedition will help us identify areas of natural values that we can protect for the future,” he said.