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WAM arachnologist describes cave spiders

2019 Australian of the Year Craig Challen was a guest at the CME Surface Mines Rescue Competition in Kalgoorlie-Boulder on Sunday. Credit: Kalgoorlie Miner, Kelsey Reid.

Nullarbor Plain spiders named after cave heroes, The West Australian, 3 February 2021

New species of the world’s most specialised cave-dwelling trapdoor spider have been named in honour of key people involved in the 2018 Thai cave rescue.

Four new species of the rare, blind, cave-dwelling spiders found only in permanently dark zones in caves of the Nullarbor Plain have been named and published by WA Museum scientists.

Lead scientist Mark Harvey said he and his team wanted to pay tribute to the key people involved in the Thai cave rescue.

He said Troglodiplura beirutpakbarai was named for Beirut Pakbara and Troglodiplura samankunani for Saman Kunan, who both died as a result of the rescue.

Troglodiplura challeni is named for Dr Craig Challen and Troglodiplura harrisi for Dr Richard Harris, the Australian cave divers who were instrumental in rescuing the group,” he said.

“Both are active explorers of cave ecosystems in Australia and are passionate about their conservation.”

Dr Challen and Dr Harris were joint winners of the 2019 Australian of the Year.

Dr Harvey said the research team reviewed specimens preserved in Australian museums in the process of identifying the species, and were excited by the unexpected results.

“The study revealed that in addition to Troglodiplura lowryi, the only previously named species, four new species were found,” Dr Harvey said.

“Earlier scientific papers suggest that Troglodiplura spiders are most closely related to a family of South American spiders.

“However, using DNA extracted from a museum specimen, it was evident that the genus belongs to a family of spiders found only in Australia.

“(This) has far-reaching and positive implications about their evolution.”

Dr Harvey said the research indicated that Troglodiplura belongs to the Anamidae, a family of Australian mygalomorph spiders.

These are a group of spiders that have fangs that point straight down, such as tarantulas and trapdoor spiders.

“Very few mygalomorph spiders have evolved into living an isolated existence in subterranean habitats.

“Yet our research has shown all four of the new species have developed extreme troglobitic characteristics, including the complete lack of eyes and elongated legs — making them arguably one of the world’s most specialized cave-dwelling mygalomorph.

“Each of the species occur in single caves on the Nullarbor Plain and each are extremely rare.

“Nearly all specimens in museum collections are only known from fragments of cuticle painstakingly collected by cave biologists.”

Twelve members of a soccer team, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were trapped in the Thai cave for 18 days after visiting it on June 23, 2018.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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