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Study reveals 18 new pelican spider species

Jan. 11 (UPI) — Researchers with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have discovered 18 new species of pelican spider, a group of arachnids that look as absurd as they sound.

The new species were discovered living in the jungles of Madagascar, an African island in the Indian Ocean that hosts a plethora of endemic plant and animal species — species not found anywhere else on Earth.

Arachnologists Hannah Wood and Nikolaj Scharff conducted their survey using specimens collected during their own field work as well as spiders found during an arthropod survey organized by the California Academy of Sciences.

Most spiders are opportunistic, eating whatever gets stuck in their web. As such, many spiders occasionally eat other spiders. Pelican spiders, however, eat only other spiders — and nothing else.

Their unique anatomy is specifically designed for spider consumption. The spiders use their long, curved pelican-like neck and fang-tipped mouthpieces to quickly impale their victims. The long neck allows the spider to hold its victim away from the rest of its body so as to evade potential counterattacks.

“These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar,” Wood said in a news release.

Pelican spiders form what’s known as the Archaeid family, named for their ancient origins. Several of the species of pelican spiders living on Madagascar were discovered preserved in ancient amber and presumed to be extinct before they were found in living form.

“These spiders have likely been on Madagascar since Pangaean times, 180 million years ago,” Wood told Smithsonian.

Madagascar is now home to 26 distinct species of pelican spider, 18 of which were described this week in the journal ZooKeys. But Wood expects the total will increase sooner rather than later.

“The coolest part of the study,” Wood said, “[is that] there are so many species we don’t know about. And in Madagascar, this is common, for arachnologists to be finding and describing new species.”

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