Thursday, October 22, 2009

Largest New Nephila Spider Discovery In 130 Years

A giant golden orb-web exceeding 1 meter in diameter, spun by a Nephila inaurata spider. Image Credit: Matjaz Kuntner

Largest New Nephila Spider Discovery In 130 Years

Scientists, Jonathan Coddington of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Matjaz Kuntner of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, have found the world’s largest species of golden orb-weaver spider in the tropics of Africa and Madagascar. The discovery marks the first identification of a new Nephila spider since 1879.

Codding stated in a press release, “We fear the species might be endangered, as its only definite habitat is a sand forest in Tembe Elephant Park in KwaZulu-Natal. Our data suggest that the species is not abundant, its range is restricted, and all known localities lie within two endangered biodiversity hotspots: Maputaland and Madagascar.”

Tiny male Nephila spiders are dwarfed by their female counterparts. Image Credit: Matjaz Kuntner and Jonathan Coddington/PLoS ONE

This excerpted and edited from Wired Science -

Even-More-Gigantic Giant Orb Spider Discovered
By Hadley Leggett, Wired Science - October 20, 2009, 8:00 pm

Females of the new species, Nephila komaci, measure a whopping 4 to 5 inches in diameter, while the male spiders stay petite at less than a quarter of their mate’s size. So far, only a handful of these enormous arachnids have been found in the world.
The first potential specimen of the new species was uncovered by Coddington and his colleague Matjaz Kuntner in 2000. They found a huge female orb-weaver among a museum collection of spiders in Pretoria, South Africa, and she didn’t match the description of any known spider. Although they hoped the unusual-looking giant represented a new species, several dedicated expeditions to South Africa failed to find any live spiders of a similar description.

Then, in 2003, a second specimen from Madagascar was found at a museum in Austria, suggesting that the first spider hadn’t been a fluke. But despite a comprehensive search through more than 2,500 samples from 37 museums, no additional specimens turned up.
Finally, three live spiders have been found to prove the scientists wrong: A South African researcher found two giant females and one male in Tembe Elephant Park, proving that the new species was not extinct, just incredibly rare.

“Only three have been found in the past decade,” Kuntner wrote in an e-mail to “None by our team, despite focused searches. Only an additional two exist in old museum collections. Compared to thousands of exemplars of other Nephila species in museums, that is disproportionately rare.”
Like all Nephila spiders, females of the new species spin huge webs of golden silk, often more than 3 feet in diameter. In the report of the discovery of this rare spider, published Tuesday in PLoS One, the researchers also addressed the evolution of the dramatic size difference between male and female orb-weavers.
Reference Here>>

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