Monday, August 20, 2012
Velociraptor spider discovered in Oregon cave
Scouring the caves of Southwest Oregon, scientists have made the incredible discovery of a fearsome apex predator with massive, sickle claws. No, it's not the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park: it's a large spider that is so unique scientists were forced to create a new taxonomic family for it. This is the first new spider family to be discovered in North America in over 130 years.
"This is something completely new," lead author of a paper on the species, Charles Griswold with the California Academy of Sciences, told SFGate. "It's a historic event."
The discoverers, who published their description paper in the open-access journal Zoo Keys have named the new speciesTrogloraptor, which translates loosely to "cave robber," and they have dubbed a new spider family—Trogloraptoridae—to accommodate what they believe is a primitive spider. The full species name is Trogloraptor marchingtoni after one of its discoverers.
Spanning four centimeters with extended limbs, the spider spins sparse webs on cave ceilings. The researchers consider it is most closely related to goblin spiders, but more primitive still. Almost nothing is known about the new species' behavior; even what it eats remains a mystery. In fact, the researchers have tried feeding captured spiders various foods, but to date the arachnids have refused the offerings and perished. Still, its sickle claws suggest that Trogloraptor marchingtoni is a stupendous hunter.
While the spider was first discovered in caves near Grants Pass, Oregon, individuals have recently been found in the forests of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California.
Tens-of-thousands of new species are discovered every year, but uncovering a new 'family' is a very rare occurrence. Taxonomic families often cover large groups of animals; for example, all of the world's cats, from tigers to domestic pets, belong to one family, the Felidae.