The Western Cave Conservancy’s goal is to explore and protect caves in the Western United States. A few years ago, they surveyed caves in Southern Oregon, and little did they know that in that process, they’d become citizen scientists!
They found an unusual spider while combing the caves and sent it to a student researcher here at the Academy to identify. She had trouble putting the specimen to a species and sent it on to a postdoc down the hall. He had the same trouble.
Enter Charles Griswold, head of arachnology at the Academy. Charles identified the mystery spider as the feared brown recluse at first, but then he looked closer. “The eyes were all wrong, the claws wrong, the jaws wrong. It was not a brown recluse,” he says.
Now Charles knows a lot about spiders, but even he knows when he’s stumped. So he consulted the bible for spiders in the US—Spiders of North America. The spider, nicknamed Mysteridae, wasn’t in it. He consulted the world guide. Not there, either. “It didn’t fit anything, “ he says.
Charles, postdoc Joel Ledford, and student Tracy Audisio dissected the specimen and examined the spider’s anatomy. The more they investigated, the more they realized that this spider didn’t match up with any family they’d seen. They reached out to colleagues and one recognized shading at the spinnerets, or spinning organs, similar to shading on goblin spiders. Still, the breathing organs (tracheae) and enormous claws were nothing like goblin spiders.
So Charles, Joel and Tracy realized they had a whole new spider, from a whole new family, related to the goblin spiders. And they named the new spider Trogloraptor marchingtoni—troglo meaning caves and raptor, meaning grabber, seizer, or robber.
And marchingtoni? For Neil Marchington, deputy sheriff, amateur biologist and cave conservancy member who found the spider in the first place!
The species is described in ZooKeys.
Images: Trogloraptor; Joel Ledford, Charles Griswold, Tracy Audisio