Scientists discover eight new species of whip spider in Brazil

Researchers identified eight new species of an arachnid that prowls the Amazon.

Courtesy of Giupponi et al.
One of the new species of Whip spider discovered in Brazil, Charinus guto.

With long spiny forelegs swinging around like antennae, eight species of whip spider living in the Brazilian Amazon are now named.

Scientists found the eight new arachnid species while assessing museum collections. "They were there sitting and waiting to be discovered," Gustavo Silva de Miranda, who discovered the new species with a colleague, tells The Christian Science Monitor. The new animals are described in a paper published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

Whip spiders get their name from their long, whip-like front legs. They don't actually use these legs to walk, says Mr. de Miranda. Instead, these wispy legs are loaded with sensory structures to fill in for the animal's poor eyesight. In fact, "this is the primary sensory structure of this animal," de Miranda says. 

The species may be part of an order commonly called "whip spider" but they're not exactly spiders. These arachnids don't have venomous fangs and don't produce silk.

Sometimes the order is also called "tailless whip scorpions." But, like the other nickname, these crawlers are not scorpions either. They look like a whip scorpion, but they don't have the distinctive tail of that arachnid. In fact, whip spiders belong to the order Amblypigi, which means "blunt rump."

"These common names can make some confusion," admits de Miranda.

Whip spiders are found all over the world, but the new species are all residents of the Amazon in Brazil. 

As human activity encroaches on the region, four of the eight already face serious environmental threats, says de Miranda. Some are threatened by iron mining, while another lives in an area being flooded by a new dam. Some live in caves and some hide under bark, rocks or leaf litter.

"It's good to discover these things before they actually disappear," de Miranda says, "Because these cave animals, they only inhabit these caves and nowhere else. If we destroy their habitats, they are gone forever."

Although humans may not like creepy, crawly arachnids in their homes, losing these animals could disrupt the food chain in a region. 

These eight new arachnids are all members of the genus Charinus.

de Miranda, now a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen, and his colleague Alessandro Ponce de Leão Giupponi, now a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, discovered the new species while conducting research at the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro. The whip spider collections came from the Butantan Institute, the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi, and the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo.

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