Trapdoor spiders live in small burrows, hidden behind doors armed with a security system that lets them know when prey is passing by so they can burst out and grab it. Given the element of surprise is integral to their hunting strategy, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’re not the easiest animals to find. Against the odds, a team of researchers has discovered a new group of these crafty spiders in Eastern Australia, an achievement that is all the more impressive when you learn that this new group is characterized by their superbly camouflaged burrows.
Published in Cladistics, researchers from Griffith University and the Queensland Museum described a new group containing almost 20 species of trapdoor spider, which build burrows with hinge-doors made of leaves, twigs, and silk. They named the group Cryptoforis which means “cryptic doors”.
For any animal, when a new group is discovered those responsible for its discovery must establish a key species that acts as a reference point for the whole group. For Cryptoforis, Dr Jeremy Wilson, one of the lead researchers on the study, named the key species Cryptoforis hughesae, after his recently retired mentor and supervisor Emeritus Professor Jane Hughes. Hughes is a world-renowned researcher whose specialties included population ecology, phylogeography, biogeography, and evolutionary biology.
“Jane has had a huge impact on my development as a scientist, and no doubt on many others having mentored more than 70 postgraduate students and over 60 honors students,” Dr Wilson said in a statement. “Naming this species of spider, which occurs in the forests that surround the Brisbane Griffith University campuses, seemed a fitting tribute for everything she has done for me and so many others at Griffith University.
"If you look carefully you can find this newly described species in most forests and natural reserves within Brisbane and the Brisbane valley.”
Dr Wilson discovered that this widespread group of trapdoor spiders, found up and down the east coast of Australia, was actually a separate genus by comparing them to other trapdoor spiders from across Australia.
The new group was confirmed following an analysis of their physical appearance and the burrows they construct compared to other trapdoor spiders. Anatomically they exhibit molecular differences to the other trapdoor spiders in Australia but most notably different was their exceptional burrow design with their super-camouflaged cryptic doors.
“The incredibly well-hidden burrows they create were also different to other trapdoor spiders in eastern Australia, which is probably why this new group of spiders remained undiscovered in the past,” Dr Wilson said. “The discovery and description of this group of spiders adds to our knowledge of the diversity of the Australian invertebrate fauna and is also the crucial first step towards protecting these elusive spiders.”