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Two new tarantula species discovered in Ecuador

In the untouched wilderness of Ecuador, scientists have made an astonishing revelation – the existence of two previously unknown species of tarantulas. The researchers from the esteemed Universidad San Francisco de Quito stumbled upon these arachnids in the dense forests along the slopes of the Andes in the western region of the country.

Psalmopoeus chronoarachne: A vulnerable tarantula species

One of these newfound tarantulas was discovered in late February 2023, hanging 1.5 meters above the forest floor in the foothills of the evergreen forest, known as the Cordillera Occidental.

Despite its recent unearthing, this peculiar spider already faces a grave threat, as its natural habitat falls prey to destructive human activities such as mining and agriculture.

Aptly named Psalmopoeus chronoarachne, this species encapsulates its vulnerability. The sensationalized etymology of its scientific name “refers to the adage that these spiders could ‘have their time counted’ or reduced by impactful anthropogenic activities.

The name addresses conservation concerns about the survival and prevalence of spider species in natural environments,” as asserted by the researchers in their paper recently published in the scholarly journal ZooKeys.

Psalmopoeus Satanas: A fiery new tarantula species

The second tarantula, Psalmopoeus satanas, possesses an even more intriguing backstory. Researcher Roberto J. León-E first encountered this uniquely named creature perched atop a bamboo fence in San José de Alluriquín.

The spider’s initial disposition did not disappoint. León-E recalls, “It is appropriately named because the initial individual that was collected had an attitude!” The creature exhibited defensive behavior followed by quick and sporadic movements, almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Threats to tarantula species extinction

Interestingly, this spider happened to be the first tarantula that León-E ever captured. He goes on to mention that despite its tempestuous temperament and occasional attacks, the members of the Mygalomorphae Research Group within the Laboratory of Terrestrial Zoology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito developed a deep affection for this particular individual.

The habitat of these tarantulas, located in the northern region of the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes, approximately 900 meters above sea level, faces an array of imminent threats. Cropland and mining concessions, coupled with the relentless expansion of urban and agricultural territories, have resulted in the severe degradation, dwindling, and fragmentation of their natural environment.

Safeguarding tarantulas

Drawing attention to this concerning situation, Pedro Peñaherrera-R, who spearheaded the research on these animals, emphasizes, “It is important to consider that the areas in which these arthropods live are not under legal protection. The implementation of protected areas in these localities is essential to maintain the remaining population of these endangered species and to encourage research on the remaining undescribed or unknown tarantula species in the area.”

The region’s vulnerability amplifies due to the presence of legal and illegal mining operations that disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem by introducing pollutants, including copper, silver, and gold.

To safeguard the survival of these tarantula species, the researchers suggest enforcing stricter regulations and penalties for illegal mining and related activities, including the smuggling of specimens. In addition, it is crucial to engage and educate local communities about the critical importance of biodiversity conservation to prevent further extinctions.

Tarantula smuggling awareness

Roberto J. León-E reiterates these sentiments, stating, “We encourage future work by Ecuadorian and international researchers, organizations, and governments to effectively understand the reality about the threat of tarantula smuggling and the required conservation status of each species in the country.”

Based on initial conservation assessments, both tarantulas meet the criteria to be classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The potential loss of P. chronoarachne and P. satanas, and the subsequent ecological consequences resulting from their extinctions, warrant serious consideration. As expressed by the researchers, “These species may serve essential roles in the stratified micro-ecosystems in their respective areas.”

Apart from these immediate dangers, the illegal trade in wild tarantulas as pets poses a latent threat not only to these two species but also to Ecuadorian tarantulas at large. Numerous tarantula species can be readily found for sale online through various websites and social media platforms.

Pedro Peñaherrera-R underscores this alarming reality by sharing, “During the writing of this article and the publication of another article, we found that a species that we described (Neischnocolus cisnerosi) is currently in the illegal pet trade!”

An extensive examination of papers focusing on wild-caught pet-trade specimens reveals that this issue has persisted for over three decades in the country. Pedro Peñaherrera-R expresses deep concern about the unintended side effects of the previously published scientific articles.

He explains, “Although this series of publications encouraged research on Ecuadorian tarantulas previously ignored for centuries, they also functioned as catalysts within the pet-trade hobby, aiding in obtaining these species and further encouraging people to collect undescribed species.”

Urgent need for conservation

The urgent need for robust conservation efforts becomes evident as Ecuador’s newly uncovered tarantulas face a multitude of threats, both natural and human-made. It is imperative that policymakers, scientists, and local communities join forces to implement comprehensive protection measures, ensuring the survival of these unique species and preserving the intricate ecological balance that they contribute to.

In summary, through concerted efforts, we can not only save these remarkable creatures but also unearth valuable insights into their ecological roles and the intricate web of life they help sustain. The time to act is now, as the fate of Ecuador’s tarantulas hangs in the balance.


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