Australia: Aboriginal high school students discover 33 new spider species

Sydney brown trapdoor spider

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

High school students from the remote Indigenous community of Maningrida, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, have written themselves into the science books.

They have discovered 33 new species of spiders over the past two years.

Maningrida senior students discovered 18 new species of spiders in 2005 and another 15 spiders last year.

The Maningrida Community Education Centre has been running year 11 and 12 subjects for the past four years and has experienced enormous success.

Teacher Mason Scholes says a host of unknown trapdoor, tarantula and mouse spider species were caught last year.

Mr Scholes says students have just recently enjoyed the privilege of naming them.

“One’s called Blakie and I think another one is Campo and Campionode,” he said.

“And they put some Indigenous names in there – for the Tarantula one, it’s difficult for me to pronounce but it means big black spider.”

He says the finds were very surprising, considering the time of year.

“It was sort of late dry season, so it’s probably one of the worst times that you can possibly go out collecting spiders,” he said.

“But being able to collect so many species at the time was just an absolute bonus and we’re all just extremely excited and very happy.”

Mr Scholes says the project will run again this year and he is expecting even more species of spiders to be discovered.

The full collection of 33 spiders is being held at the Queensland Museum.

Nephila spiders: here.


5 thoughts on “Australia: Aboriginal high school students discover 33 new spider species

  1. Arctic spiders may hold clues to global warming
    Reuters, Tue Mar 6, 2007 12:37PM ET

    By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

    OSLO (Reuters) – Reclusive spiders living in the Arctic may yield clues to the impact of global warming just like bigger, better-known predators such as polar bears, a researcher said on Tuesday.

    Any disruptions to tiny Arctic spiders, little studied and living much of their lives under snow, could ripple through the food chain since they prey on insects and are in turn eaten by birds, said Michael Nickel of Stuttgart University in Germany.

    Nickel is to study Arctic spiders during a U.N.-sponsored International Polar Year in 2007-08, a 60-nation project to probe polar areas on the front lines of climate change. There are about 70 species of spiders in Greenland alone.

    “The effects of changes are more obvious in the bigger animals,” such as polar bears or seals, Nickel told Reuters. But global warming “affects the whole environment and you have to look at the basic scale too.”

    “There is even a lot of knowledge and projects about plants but insects and spiders are a little neglected,” he said.

    Spiders adapted to living in the Arctic, with chill temperatures and little food, can take up to seven years to reach maturity, according to some studies. That compares to one to two years for similar species further south, he said.

    Global warming, blamed by almost all scientists on a build-up of greenhouse gases from human use of fossil fuels, could help the Arctic spiders to grow faster in the short term.

    But, in the longer term, a melting of snow and ice might allow more southerly spider species to march northwards.

    “In the first few years (Arctic) spiders might have better chances but as stable populations come up of new species the situation will completely change,” he said.


    “I don’t think that (Arctic) spiders will be winners (from global warming). The competition may be higher,” he said. “But it’s not yet clear what the effects will be.”

    Spiders are found throughout the Arctic. The wolf spider, 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from leg tip to leg tip, is among the biggest.

    “In the winter they hide under the snow where the climate is quite mild,” he said. Nickel’s project is one of more than 200 approved for Polar Year but he said he still needed to raise funds for field trips.

    Arctic temperatures have been rising twice as fast as the world average in recent years, scientists say, apparently because darker ground and water, once exposed, soaks up more heat than ice and snow.


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