SciSun: Family Matters   Leave a comment

In an ironic follow-up to our report a few weeks ago about the bat disease white-nose syndrome being possibly spread by cave spelunkers, today we hear that a group of cave explorers in Oregon (where there haven’t yet been any cases of white-nose) have discovered a completely new type of spider living in the caves. This is the first newly discovered native spider family in the United States since 1890, when, it’s rumored, the gold prospector ‘Eight fingered Pete’ came across a spider he’d never seen before, breaking into his shack and trying to steal his gold. Pete suspected it was a new type of spider, he said, because he knew all the local spiders by name. Like Bill and Jim and Rowdy. Pete would say a lot of things, which is probably why he was forced to live in cabin made of old tin cans.

This is not just a new species of spider (organisms that share similarities with others, but still have identifiable differences); or even a new genus of spiders (groups of species that are very much different from other groups); this is a new family, a larger taxonomic group classification that includes even more species than a genus. For example, your pet dog – and all dogs – are from the genus ‘Canis‘, and the species ‘familiaris’. This identifies all dogs, and only dogs, no other animals allowed. The family name is ‘Canidea’, which includes all dogs and also wolf, coyote, fox, dingo (from Australia), and most other dog-like animals. There are four other classifications that become less specialized and include more and more types of species, until eventually the Kingdom classification is reached which includes every type of species within that kingdom.

This new spider is named Trogloraptor marchingtoni, which means ‘cave robber marchington’. Marchington is the name of the person who discovered the spider, and ‘cave robber; was selected because of the hooks, or claws, the 3-inch spider has on its legs which allows it to hang from a cave roof or wall, and grab flying insects out of the air. It also has two rows of teeth, which is distinct among spiders. Plus Trogloraptor is a pretty cool name, in any case.

Trogloraptor marchingtoni WIKI

“Hanging upside down would be a lot tougher if the blood rushed to my head. Or, if I had a head.”

While so far there’s been no extreme discoveries about what role this spider plays in nature, it’s important to remember all species are here for a reason, and there’s always something new to discover and learn. Even if you don’t find a family, or genus, or species that’s new to science, in your outdoor adventures you can probably find something that’s new to you. But if you decide to start calling species by random names, you might want to start stocking up on tin cans.


Michonne Says: Oh I know all about caves. I’ve been in one and met a Nite-wing. They’re like mice that fly. It’s hard to believe, but I saw it with my own eyes. And they squeek and whistle like a marmot, but I didn’t understand everything he said.     I didn’t see any spiders. They usually don’t talk at all.

Posted November 11, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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