Scientists have discovered eight new species of amblypygid — a special kind of arachnid with a pair of whip-like legs. This is a big deal. Amblypygids are not well-documented, which is a shame, considering we see them every evening in our nightmares.
Amblypygids are found all over the world, but Brazil only had 17 known species — until recently. Eight more species are described by Danish and Brazilian scientists in a paper published in PLOS One. These spiders are also known as “whip spiders” or “whip scorpions” because of their elongated whip-like front legs. Actually, the “whips” are harmless. Amblypygids don’t have great eyesight and often live in caves. They walk on six legs and use their front limbs as guides to sense the world around them.
A little more worrying are the crab-like appendages in front of the spider’s mouth, known as pedipalps. They’re used as arms, for grabbing and manoeuvring prey. Spiders that are threatened (by a researcher’s finger) will pinch or strike whatever is in front of them — occasionally breaking skin. Fortunately, the only medical care the wound needs is a band-aid. Whip spiders have no venom of any kind. They’re also shy.
In truth, amblypygids really got screwed over by biology. They’re retiring, harmless creatures and one of the few arachnids to display social behaviour — in some species parents will pet their offspring and siblings will try to get close to each other if separated. However, because they look like a face-hugger mated with the Predator to produce something that can slip itself beneath your doona while you’re sleeping, they’re generally disliked. The four words an amblypygid is most likely to hear are, “Get it off me!”
These particular whip spiders need our sympathy more than most, because they live in an area of Brazil where the natural ecosystem is giving way to mining operations. If you can’t find it in yourself to care, I don’t blame you. But it would be a shame to see these creatures disappear forever. Perhaps an up-close look at their genitals will stir your compassion.
Images: PLOS ONE