New species of trapdoor spiders with extravagant burrows found in QLD

By Holly Cormack 8 April 2019
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FOUR new species!

FOUR NEW SPECIES of trapdoor spider have been discovered in Queensland by researchers from Queensland Museum and Griffith University.

These new species of palisade trapdoor spider, dubbed the ‘turrificus-group’, hide beneath distinctive burrows, which protrude out of the ground like a miniature turret or tower.

Each burrow is unique to the species of trapdoor – meaning that, for the first time, scientists can identify the species just by looking at its burrow.

The spiders were described in Invertebrate Systematics by Griffith University PhD student Jeremy Wilson, under the guidance of Queensland Museum arachnologists Dr Robert Raven and Dr Michael Rix.

“To identify a trapdoor spider species, you usually have to dig the spider up and look at it carefully under a microscope, which can involve killing the spider, but what’s amazing about these new species is that all four can be identified based on the appearance of their burrow, so you don’t have to dig up or disturb the spiders at all,” Jeremy says.

Trapdoor spiders belong to the group Mygalomorphae – a group that construct deep silk-lined burrows that sometimes include a hinged door at the entrance. “Burrows are pivotal to the survival of mygalomorph spiders, as they regulate humidity, provide protection from predators and allow the spiders to ambush their prey,” Jeremy says.

While many trapdoor spider burrows are difficult to spot, these ones are decorated with weird and wonderful patterns and shapes. While scientists do not know the purpose of this, Jeremy suggests that there must be an evolutionary reason waiting to be discovered.

The spiders, which were discovered between the Sunshine Coast towns of Montville and Maleny, are classified as short-range endemic species – animals that have a small geographic distribution. So far, all four species have only been identified in this small region of south-eastern Queensland, which means that they may be especially vulnerable to becoming endangered or even extinct.

In 2002, an arachnologist from the Western Australian museum, Mark Harvey, suggested that scientists should “prioritise the discovery and description of short-range endemic species”. He suggested that identifying and naming them was the first step toward protecting them.

Trapdoor spiders spend their entire lives in their burrows, with the exception of the males leaving briefly (and not travelling particularly far) to mate. Young trapdoors do not venture far from their mothers burrow before building their own.

“It’s amazing that strange new species like these occur within one of Australia’s most developed regions, and it just goes to show the conservation importance of even small patches of remnant forest,” Jeremy says.