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A spider that hunts other spiders: 18 new species of this bizarre Madagascar arachnid are unveiled

Sean Greene, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

There have been times when Wood went searching for a particular species but found a whole new one instead.

"Every time someone goes there, it seems there's a new species that turns up," she said.

Many of these species, such as the triangular-headed Eriauchenius pauliani, are known from only one or two museum specimens.

"I really want to collect this spider alive and just see what it's doing, but so far this species has proven to be quite elusive," Wood said. "I hope it's still alive. The last specimen was collected in the 1960s."

During a 2008 expedition in Andohahela National Park, Wood searched in vain for a species she'd described based on two females and a juvenile specimen stored in the collection of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

In the Zookeys paper, she named the spider Eriauchenius milajaneae, after her daughter Mila Jane, "in the hope that one day she will go to Andohahela to find this spider."

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Wood's fascination with pelican spiders (and the four other members of the superfamily Palpimanoidea) goes back 10 years. Previously, she unraveled the secrets of trap-jaw spiders, a related family with lightning-fast mandibles.

"From the beginning, I'd look at these (pelican) spiders and I wanted to know why they looked the way they did," she said.

By building out the species' evolutionary relationships, Wood and colleagues hoped to uncover answers about how these spiders developed their strange traits.

Pelican spiders probably spread more than 180 million years ago, while the super-continent Pangea was still intact. The spiders that ended up on the northern continent of Laurasia (which became North America, Europe and Asia) eventually went extinct. Living pelican spiders are found only in Madagascar, South Africa and Australia.

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