Terrifying! The trapdoor species being discovered in Western Australia actually hold key conservation challenges. Picture: Queensland Museum.
Terrifying! The trapdoor species being discovered in Western Australia actually hold key conservation challenges. Picture: Queensland Museum.

New species of trapdoor spiders hiding in your backyard

THEY are the creepy spiders hiding behind cryptic trapdoors - and they could be tucked away in your backyard.

Dozens of new species of secretive trapdoor spider are being discovered across the country for exactly that reason - they're so elusive.

A group of southwestern Australian trapdoor spiders have been listed as threatened species, despite only just being formally named.

A research group led by Queensland Museum scientist Dr Michael Rix, along with the Western Australian Museum, University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum, has described 15 new species.

The group includes the only spider in Australia that is on both the Western Australian state and the Commonwealth threatened species lists, and now a further two species that have been listed on the Western Australian threatened species list because of the latest research.

Another researcher from Griffith University, PhD student Jeremy Wilson, has also discovered a lineage of trapdoor spiders that weren't previously known to occur in mainland Australia, having only previously been in Tasmania.

 

These 15 new species of trapdoor spiders are already listed as threatened species despite only just being named. Picture: Queensland Museum
These 15 new species of trapdoor spiders are already listed as threatened species despite only just being named. Picture: Queensland Museum

"Because of their cryptic burrows and some other difficulties associated with trapdoor spiders, they remained essentially undetected until now," Mr Wilson said.

He has also described four new species from a lineage of trapdoors which create weird "palisade" trapdoors for their burrows.

"Their burrow projects out from the ground like a little tower," Mr Wilson said.

"They're also highly restricted, with two of the species known from a single national park."

Queensland Museum scientist Dr Michael Rix said trapdoor spiders can provide a good indication of how natural landscapes were faring, and if a population was struggling to survive in an area, that could indicate a serious problem.

His collaborative research paper, published in ZooKeys, is a large revision of new species of trapdoor spiders and has "great conservation significance".

"They are the face of invertebrate conservation in some parts of Western Australia," Dr Rix said.

"Where trapdoor spiders exist in the landscape and exist in good numbers, it is a good indication that these habitats are doing relatively well compared to other places where trapdoor spiders no longer occur due to long term declines."

 

Four new species of trapdoor have been described, pictured here with their strange burrows and trapdoors. Source: Instagram (Jeremy Wilson)
Four new species of trapdoor have been described, pictured here with their strange burrows and trapdoors. Source: Instagram (Jeremy Wilson)

The research highlighted there can be real time declines and conservation challenges faced by animal species that are still not formally named.

"These are threatened species and they do exist in the landscape and some are declining seriously, yet in many cases we still don't have scientific names for them," Dr Rix said.

"It's a particular problem for invertebrates such as spiders and insects and it's crucial that we get a handle on the taxonomy and the names of those species before they are lost forever."

Aside from the conservation significance of the new species of spiders, they are unique in that they are one of only a few groups of animals in the world that use their bodies as another layer of defence to protect their homes.

"These spiders have essentially turned the backs of their bodies into armoured shields, which they use to plug their burrows and defend themselves against predators," Dr Rix said.

"They are one of only a few spiders in the world that have this defence mechanism."

Queensland Museum Network Acting CEO Dr Jim Thompson said this scientific paper highlighted the important work that taxonomists do.

"For many people spiders are feared but they actually play a very important part in our ecosystem and this research is significant in identifying at risk species," Dr Thompson said.


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