18 new pelican spider species found in Madagascar
Researchers have described 18 new pelican spider species.

Joseph Scalise | Apr 19, 2018

A group of international researchers have discovered 18 new species of pelican spiders living in Madagascar, according to recent research published in the journal ZooKeys.

Pelican spiders are ancient arachnids that first came about 165 million years ago. They are roughly the same size as a grain of rice and, unlike most spiders, prefer to hunt their own kind. There are currently 26 known species of pelican spiders living throughout Madagascar and South Africa, and 18 of those were just described in the new research.

The team documented the new species after spending years collecting and studying pelican spiders from both museums and Madagascar.

"I was curious to understand why these strange-looking spiders looked the way they did, and furthermore, why there was so much variation in the way they looked," lead author Hannah Wood, curator of arachnids and myriapods at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History,told Gizmodo.

The unique arachnids got their name because, when not hunting, they fold their fanged pincers back in a way that makes them appear like a pelican. Unlike most species, the creatures are active hunters. Rather than spinning their own webs, they track down webs made by other spiders and wait for the perfect time to strike.

Once they sense their prey, pelican spiders jab other arachnids with their long pincers.That then allows them to hold the prey far away from their body as they pump deadly venom into their victim.

Pelican spiders are anomalies in the arachnid world. Not only are they one of the only spider species that actively hunts other spiders, but they are also extremely similar to their relatives that existed 165 million years ago. Most animals undergo a lot of changes over time, but pelican spiders have experienced only minor deviations.

Almost all modern pelican spiders live inMadagascar, South Africa, or Australia. Such a wide distribution makes researchers think that the arachnids once lived on Pangaea before it broke apart 200 million years ago. The team in the study hopes to continue with their research and see what other species they can uncover.

"I think there's going to be a lot more species that haven't yet been described or documented," added Wood, according toLive Science.

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