A new type of Indian Tiger Spider has been discovered in northern Sri Lanka, and it’s about the size of your face. The new, venomous, face-sized, and rather fast, species of tarantula measures about 8 inches across.
The Indian tiger spider is informally labeled with that name as a result of the stripes on its body. The scientific name for the genus is Poecilotheria, and the new species is known as Poecilotheria rajaei. As a group, they are most closely related to the group of very large South American tarantulas that includes the Goliath Bird-Eater, a foot long species of tarantula which as its name implies sometimes eats small birds.
The new spiders are generally arboreal, but from the looks of it as deforestation has been greatly reducing their habitat in recent times, they have begun to move into old and abandoned buildings. The rapid deforestation of recent years appears to be quickly pushing them towards extinction. Which is unfortunate as they are a rather distinct species.
“This species has enough significant differences to separate it from the other species,” said Peter Kirk, editor of the British Tarantula Society’s journal. Adding that: “I absolutely would love to see DNA sampling done – on all the species of Poecilotheria.”
Wired continues: “The spider’s unique leg markings include geometric patterns with daffodil-yellow and grey inlays on the first and fourth legs. It was first seen during a Sri Lankan arachnid survey led by Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research. In October 2009, a local villager presented Nanayakkara and his team with a dead male specimen that didn’t resemble known Poecilotheria in the area. Before the team could begin describing the presumptive new species, they needed more individuals. Scouring the semi-evergreen, forested area for females and juveniles required the help of police inspector Michael Rajakumar Purajah, who accompanied the team through areas just beginning to recover from a civil war. Eventually, the team found enough spiders – including the ones hiding in a hospital – to assemble a detailed description of the new arachnids.”
“They are quite rare,” Nanayakkara said. “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.”
Not surprising, deforestation has an enormous and negative impact on biodiversity, being largely responsible for the extinction of many incredible animals in recent times. Recent deforestation has caused the extinction of 12 foot tall birds, eagles twice the size of any living today, gorilla sized lemurs, and many of the other megafauna animals that once inhabited the world. (Deforestation in prehistory was largely as a result of intentional fire-setting, while in modern times it’s resource harvesting and transition to agriculture.)
Currently there are about 15 recognized species within the genus Poecilotheria. Many of them are endangered, “due mostly to loss of habitat. P. metallica, a bright blue beauty, is considered critically endangered. So is P. hanumavilasumica — named after a temple on Rameshwaram Island –which lives among the trees in the island’s disappearing plantations. The spider which most closely resembles P. rajaei is called P. regalis, and so far has only been found on the Indian mainland. Nanayakkara hints that he’s got several more potential new tarantulas up his sleeve, awaiting review.”
“When it comes down to taxonomy, it’s not a hard and fast science,” Kirk said. “Until we get to things like DNA sampling.”
Image Credit: Ranil Nanayakkara