When you see a terrifying creepy crawly or a monstrous spider, what do you do? In the modern world, many take to social media and post an image of the beast for their friends and followers to gasp at in horror. But these moments of oversharing might have another effect, revealing species new to science.
One such group of researchers have been harnessing the power of Facebook and social media to study a group of arachnids known as baboon spiders. Native to southern Africa, these spiders are pretty big and thus pretty frequently photographed, but surprisingly little is known about their species, distribution, and behavior. This is where the Baboon Spider Atlas comes in.
“When people see an animal that they think is frightening or dangerous, the most common response is to take a photo and post it to social media,” explained Heather Campbell of Harper Adams University, who helped set up the Atlas and co-authored a new paper in Insect Conservation and Biodiversity, to New Scientist.
The atlas goes through Facebook, other social media, and online forums looking for photos of baboon spiders. It also has a section in which people can post their own photos. In doing this, they have found out some pretty impressive things about the little-known arachnids.
They suspect, although it still needs to be confirmed, that they have identified up to 30 new species of the spider. One of these is a vivid purple beastie, a color never before recorded in this group, while another has a distinctive horn shape on its back.
Yet, it is not only species and their distribution that can be studied using these posts, as even behavior can be captured. The team also discovered that some species that were thought to stay in their burrows for their entire lives are actually pretty active and go for the odd wander through the African bush.
Biologists are increasingly turning to social media to help them study the Earth’s flora and fauna. Conducting scientific surveys are expensive, time consuming, and incomplete, with frequent spatial and temporal gaps. But local residents and tourists are able to cover much more ground all year around.
Facebook has already revealed the existence of a new species of carnivorous plant, while another study found that the Internet was perfect for finding cases of praying mantids feasting on birds as a way to figure out how often the feisty insects turned the table on their avian nemesis.
When it comes to spiders big and small, post and you might just help discover a new species.
[H/T: New Scientist]