Spelunking

August 21, 2012

Tags: Trogloraptor marchingtoni, Dysderoidea

By now you've probably heard of the exciting discovery of Trogloraptor marchingtoni, a species of cave spider that warrants naming a whole new family of spiders. There's a nice BBC interview with Charles E. Griswold of the Arachnology Lab at the California Academy of Sciences, who, with Tracy Audisio and Joel M. Ledford, announced the discovery. (The last paragraph in the BBC article is inaccurate, though; there are many surviving species of goblin spider.)

While most news stories seem drawn to the newly discovered spider's claws, I'm more intrigued by the fact that Charles and his colleagues have determined that members of the family Trogloraptoridae are likely "the most primitive living members of the Dysderoidea," a superfamily that evolved relatively early in the araneomorph phase of spider evolution. The araneomorphs are the "true spiders," the spiders who can spin major ampullate silk. As we learn more about this spider and its behavior, we may learn more about the early evolution of the araneomorphs, and, of course, the early evolution of the production and use of silk by araneomorphs.

All the Griswold papers I've read have been very clearly written. The Trogloraptor paper, published in ZooKeys, is no exception and isn't behind a paywall. My fellow non-arachnologists, I urge you to take a look at the "Taxonomy" section of the paper. You may not understand all, or even any, of the terms mentioned. But you'll get an appreciation for all the many details taxonomists have to examine and consider before they boldly declare they've discovered a new family. Make sure to hover your cursor over the figure numbers to take a look at the anatomical structures described.

And the "Conclusions" section is a treat. If it doesn't make you want to rush off to explore the Pacific Northwest, I advise having your blood oxygen levels checked.

(We are grateful to Charles for reading and commenting on sections of Spider Silk while it was still in manuscript.)




Tags

"...a compelling introduction to evolution in action through the lens of spiders and their silks."

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