Pelican spiders lived 165 million-years-ago and they are 'spider assassins'

Olive Hawkins
January 13, 2018

All of the pelican spiders that Wood described live only in Madagascar. The pelican spider is both a "living fossil" and a "Lazarus taxon" (an organism that gives the appearance of being resurrected from prehistory because its fossils were found before living versions).

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. Instead, they are active hunters - hence the name "assassin" - feeding exclusively on other spiders. Also known as "assassin spiders", pelican spiders mostly follow their prey at night and perform the attack with the part of the mouth with fangs. 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. While pelican spiders don't spin webs, sometimes you'll find them hovering over another spider's lair. After years of collecting pelican spiders from Madagascar and studying them in museum collections, Wood and colleague Nikolaj Scharff of the University of Copenhagenin Denmark described the weird hunters in unprecedented detail. They're called pelican spiders because their very big jaws resemble seabirds beaks, National Geographic explains.

Come to think of it, a pelican spider might be useful around the house so it could hunt down all the other spiders.

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. After analyzing the genitals, the scientists confirmed that they have discovered 18 new species of spider eating pelican spiders.

The assassin spiders can use the web to lure in unsuspecting victims, impaling them once they're within reach.

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At first glance, pelican spiders (family Archaeidae) aren't exactly horrifying, just really damn doofy looking. Her analysis, focusing on spiders of the Eriauchenius and Madagascarchaea genera, sorted the spiders into 26 different species - most of which have never before been described.

Like the coelacanth, assumed extinct for millions of years, pelican spiders have survived millennia while barely changing at all.

According to the press release, Wood said that these spiders will help biologists understand how these creatures diversified, and the history of their evolution. The spiders swing their chelicerae away from their bodies in a rapid, 90-degree arc tojab the pincers into their prey.

Wood says fossilised remains of pelican spiders have turned up in the northern hemisphere but the distribution pattern of living examples - Madagascar, South Africa and Australia - suggests their ancestors were dispersed to these landmasses when the earth's supercontinent Pangaea began to break up around 175 million years ago. Wood studied the pelican spiders in that collection to make her discovery.

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