Thursday, 02 February 2012

WA's albino trapdoor spider makes top 10 of Nat Geo's weirdest life-forms of 2011

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“This is only one of three known species in the world—all from WA—with a white head and normal-coloured body,” Mr Harvey. Image: V Framenau

AN albino trapdoor spider discovered by chance in Northam has made it into the National Geographic editor’s 10 weirdest life-forms of 2011.

Coming in at number three, the new species—from the Idiopidae family—was beaten by the “glam rock” chameleon at number two and a cyclops shark at number one.

WA Museum senior curator of arachnology Dr Mark Harvey believes the spider’s highly unusual colour pattern was a probable reason for it rating so highly on the list.

“This is only one of three known species in the world—all from WA—with a white head and normal-coloured body,” he said.

“The differences between the new white-headed spider and the other species of the group are very slight, residing only in the shape of the pedipalp (used to transfer sperm to the female) and the first leg (which has a small spur to push the female up during mating).

About the size of a 50-cent piece, Grass Valley resident John Cornish originally discovered the spider on his back veranda and said he was thrilled it made the top 10 list.

Wheatbelt National Resource Management spider expert Mick Davis helped to identify the spider as a new species and said it was astounding a local could have such an impact internationally, simply through being observant.

He believes it raises the question of whether there are other species in the area waiting to be discovered.

“The finding is significant because it highlights the richness of our Wheatbelt backyards—where something never seen before can literally just walk up to your back door,” he said.

“It's fantastic people like Mr Cornish are keeping their eyes open and making the effort to find out more about our unique biodiversity.”

The new species has been nicknamed the albino trapdoor spider until an official name is given.

“Unfortunately we have not had time to study the spider in more detail since its discovery but we are planning detailed examination in the next few months.

“No other specimens have been found and we are uncertain how widespread the species range might be.”

National Geographic’s 10 weirdest life-forms of 2011:

1. Cyclops shark
2. “Glam rock” chameleon.
3. Albino trapdoor spider.
4. Demon bat.
5. Mind-control fungus.
6. Pancake sea slug.
7. Vampire flying frog.
8. Devil worm.
9. Big-lipped worm.
10. “Pink meanie” jellyfish.

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