Arachnophobes, look away now. There’s a new spider in town, at least if you live in Colombia. As described in the journal ZooKeys, this particular creepy crawly is not only a new species, but a new genus, meaning there really isn’t another spider quite like it.
This tarantula possesses an arsenal of truly extraordinary defensive hairs. Its evolutionary cousins also have similar hairs, but in order for them to do any damage to a predator or prey, they have to kick at them and force the hairs into the tissue of the antagonist. In fact, they have to rub their hind legs against their stomach areas in order to flick the hairs out at their chosen target.
In the case of this newly discovered lifeform, its defensive hairs – which liberally adorn both its legs and genitalia – appear to form a patch of lance-shaped barbs, and the males of the genus also have hairs with serrated edges. Although the researchers have not actually observed this in action, they believe that these hairs are designed to be directly administered to the enemy. This means that this tarantula will run up to its prey and slap the hell out of it, leaving it with spikey hairs all over its skin.
If you’re a small mammal, this is far from good news – these hairs are known, from observing other tarantulas, to cause fatal injuries after embedding themselves in the animal's mucous membrane, the layer that protects the internal organs. If you’re an adult human, these barbs can range from mildly irritating to incredibly painful, with one report revealing how they have ended up in some people’s eyes.
This new spider is officially known as Kankuamo marquezi. The genus is named after an indigenous people from the Caribbean coast region whose culture and language are facing extinction, whereas the species is a reference to renowned Colombian author and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, who passed away in 2014.
“This new finding is a great contribution to the knowledge of the arachnids in Colombia,” the researchers, led by Carlos Perafán of the University of the Republic in Uruguay, write in their study.
The male of the new genus. Credit: Dirk Weinmann
There’s a lot unknown about this new genus, including how similar it is to its cousins. Other tarantulas can use these defensive hairs to line their burrow, or even coat their eggs to prevent them from being eaten by sneaky ovivorous animals.
Until the attack pattern of this particular beastie is caught on camera, the use of its hairs will remain ambiguous. In the meantime, zoologists can celebrate the existence of a fascinating new eight-legged monster, while those with arachnophobia can do precisely the opposite.