Arachnophobes, Take Note: New Species of Widow Spider Will Haunt Your Dreams

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 - 3:11PM
Wednesday, 11 December 2019 - 3:11PM
Arachnophobes, Take Note: New Species of Widow Spider Will Haunt Your Dreams
< >
Wild Tomorrow Fund/Luke Verburgt
What's jet black, has eight legs, a red club-shaped splotch on its back, lays purple eggs, and likely possesses an excruciatingly painful bite that could kill a small or weakened human? If you guessed the female specimen of Latrodectus umbukwane, also known as the Phinda button spider, then you're correct. If you guessed something else, then a small horde of them probably knows about it and will be responding to the insult once the holidays are over. The reason you might have guessed Black Widow is because, as the description suggests, the Phinda button spider is a newly-discovered species of the Latrodectus - commonly known as widow – genus of spiders: the ninth discovered in Africa, and the 32nd known to exist.


According to the Wild Tomorrow Fund, who reported the finding in January, L. umbukwane may be the largest widow spider found so far (note, however, that Latrodectus found in South Africa are called "button," rather than "widow" spiders), deriving its name from the location where Dr. Ian Englebrecht, an expert on South African arachnids, identified it as a new species. In an email to Gizmodo describing the first specimen found living in a tree hollow, entomologist Barbara Wright of the Wild Tomorrow Fund recalls being "shocked and completely blown away by the sheer size [of the spider] and the colors." 


The spider's purple egg sac and unique markings helped secure its place as a new species. "The Phinda button spider can be diagnosed from the other African species by the presence of both a distinct red marking on the ventral surface of the abdomen and a red stripe on the posterior dorsal surface of the abdomen," Wright wrote in a fascinating blog post describing the discovery. "This species appears to be unique in that it produces a large egg case which is purple in colour when first produced, progressively fading to grey before the spiderlings emerge, while other African species either have a small white spikey egg sac or a large smooth or woolly white egg sac."


For a closer look at L. umbukwane, take a look at the video below. Sweet dreams. 



Science
Weird Science