Pelican spiders are beautiful and iconic Madagascan spiders. They have a bizarre appearance, with a long “neck” and chelicerae (“jaws”) that are used to prey on other spiders from a distance. This pelican spider (pictured above, top) is dangling its spider prey (bottom) upside-down using its chelicerae after capturing it. These spiders also occur in Australia and South Africa; however, the species with the longest “necks” occur in Madagascar. All of the pelican spiders that Wood described live only in Madagascar, an island whose tremendous biodiversity is currently threatened by widespread deforestation. The new species add to scientists’ understanding of that biodiversity, and will help Wood investigate how pelican spiders’ unusual traits have evolved and diversified over time. They also highlight the case for conserving what remains of Madagascar’s forests and the biodiversity they contain, she says.
Photo by Nikolai Scharff