How the Archaeidae came to their first epithet is reasonably obvious: When in 1854 a species of this spider family – conserved in 50-million-year-old amber – was discovered for the first time, biologists were amazed. For the appearance of the spiders is more likely to be reminiscent of a water bird in a miniature format: its front jaw, which has been developed into a “neck”, and the giant pine claws are visually strikingly reminiscent of a pelican.
Spider on spider hunt
Soon after, the first living species of Archeidae were found in Madagascar – and now the tiny creatures got another nickname: killer spiders. Of course, this does not derive from their appearance, but from their hunting behavior. The enormously elongated pine claws allow the Archaeidae to hunt down other spiders. If they snap shut with their fangs, they can keep the victim far away from their own body thanks to the long jaw until it dies – and protect themselves against possible counterattacks.
Hannah Wood of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. and Nikolaj Scharff from the University of Copenhagen have now discovered 18 previously unknown pelican spiders: as they report in the journal “Zookeys”, they identified the new additions to expeditions in Madagascar and in the collections of several museums.
“These spiders testify to the unique biological variation that has developed in Madagascar,” said Wood. Today’s species of this family could be considered “living fossils” – so great was the similarity to fossil species that lived 165 million years ago, the biologist. Today you can find representatives of the pelican spiders except in Madagascar in South Africa and in Australia.