Spiders, porcupines, lizards and bats. What could they possibly all have in common? Well according to a recent suite of published research, each of these animal groups has a new addition to their ranks.
Scientists working in Sri Lanka have described a new species of tarantula ‘as big as your face’, in the British Tarantula Society’s latest journal. The species has been named Poecilotheria rajaei, and is believed to belong to a group of arachnids known as tiger or parachute spiders. At almost 8 inches across, it is one of the larger species of known spiders.
It is particularly fast-moving and venomous, consistent with the traits tarantulas are infamous for. P. rajaei is also an arboreal species, preferring to live alone in tree crevices. But if its size alone wasn’t enough to terrify arachnophobes, the scientists say that loss of its forested habitat in Sri Lanka is leading to the spiders increasingly encroaching on trees near human settlements. However, there has been controversy surrounding this study, as some scientists believe there are not enough differences between the specimens described in Sri Lanka and other previously known tarantulas, for it to count as a completely separate species. The outcome of this dispute remains to be seen.
Across the Pacific to South America now, where a new species of porcupine has been found on the Northeast coast of Brazil. In a forested biodiversity hotspot close to the São Francisco river, scientists have described Coendou speratus (speratus means ‘hope’ locally), a small tree-dwelling porcupine with conspicuous red-tipped dorsal quills. It is believed to be nocturnal, sleeping in tree hollows for much of the day, and its diet consists mainly of seeds. The species shares its habitat with a larger more widespread porcupine living in the forest canopy. The scientists believe this species to be distinct from previously described specimens because its spines are tri-coloured and it lacks any hair on its body. In contrast, another related species C. nycthemera has bi-coloured spines, and C. insidiosus has a broad covering of hair over its own spines. The name given to this new specimen is apt because the species is so endangered. 98% of its habitat has already been destroyed by logging, and what remains is highly fragmented. Unfortunately, porcupines in this region are over-exploited by hunting also. The scientists involved believe their story highlights a stark problem for this region of the world, whereby species are going extinct before they have been discovered. Within this hotspot alone, 2370 animal species have been described, of which a third are endemic and found nowhere else on Earth.
Staying in South America, scientists have uncovered two new sympatric species of wood lizard from the Enyalioides genus, living in a National Park in Peru. This region contains around 60 species of amphibian and almost 30 reptiles, but with this discovery that number increases further.
Distinct from their lizard relatives, these colourful specimens show novel features in the size and position of their reptilian scales and crests. The scientists involved in the research also conducted a phylogenetic analysis of their genomes to compare them with those of close relatives from the reptile family. These tests confirmed their belief that the specimens belonged to completely new species. These species have been named as E. rudolfarndti and E. rubrigularis.
And finally, a entirely new genus of bats has been unexpectedly discovered by scientists working in the field in South Sudan. They found a striking bat specimen, patterned with yellow spots and stripes over its black fur. It turns out that this was not the first occasion this bat has been spotted. But since 1939 it has been suffering a case of mistaken identity, when scientists in the Democratic Republic of Congo mistakenly placed it within a larger and more common genus. Having meticulously analysed the specimen they found in South Sudan, the researchers decided that almost everything about it was so unique, it deserved its own genus. They have named the new genus ‘Niumbaha‘, appropriately meaning ‘unusual’ in the local language, as this is only the 5th time the bat has ever been described. The scientists who discovered it suggests that it highlights the need for increased funding and research in this area of Africa, which is often neglected by researchers when compared to other regions of the world.
- Nanayakarra, R. P. et al. (2012) A new species of Tiger Spider, Genus Poecilotheria, from Northern Sri Lanka. British Tarantula Society Journal. 28(1): 6-15.
Pontes, A. R. M. et al (2013) A new species of porcupine, genus Coendou (Rodentia: Erethizontidae) from the Atlantic forest of northeastern Brazil. Zootaxa. 3636(3): 421–438. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3636.3.2
- Venegas, P. J. et al. (2013) Two sympatric new species of woodlizards (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides ) from Cordillera Azul National Park in northeastern Peru. ZooKeys. 277: 69–90. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.277.3594
- Reeder, D. M. et al. (2013) A new genus for a rare African vespertilionid bat: insights from South Sudan. ZooKeys. 285: 89–115. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.285.4892
- New species of porcupine discovered in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest (treehugger.com)
- New face-sized tarantula discovered in Sri Lanka (wired.co.uk)
- Cute or scary? Colorful woodlizard species discovered in Peru (cosmiclog.nbcnews.com)
- Striped like a badger — new genus of bat identified in South Sudan (eurekalert.org)