New venomous spider species discovered on popular Aussie tourist island

A new species of venomous spiny trapdoor spider has been discovered close to the coastline of an Australian island.

A new species of venomous spider has been discovered near the coast of a popular Aussie tourist destination. But rather than name the creature herself, the woman who found the “dainty” 1.5cm spiny trapdoor spider turned to the kids at a local school for help.

“I get a lot of people scared of spiders,” world renowned spider expert Dr Jessica Marsh told Yahoo News. “But I really find that if you start working with younger kids, before they get fear built into them, you can really spark wonder in these animals and hopefully they learn to have a fascination with them.

Before determining the creature’s name, Marsh workshopped ideas with children attending school on Kangaroo Island in South Australia where it was found. In determining the name, they discussed its appearance and also the habitat where it was found. Then she asked for submissions.

Dr Marsh holding tweezers and looking inside the burrow of a trapdoor spider.
A new trapdoor spider has been discovered on South Australia's Kangaroo Island. Source: Dr Jessica Marsh

“It was amazing the enthusiasm. They give me names written on pieces of paper. And then I had the very difficult talk of choosing one,” Marsh said.

The 1.5cm long spider, which Marsh describes as “dainty rather than a beefcake”, was ultimately named Blakistonia rooinsula.

“Roo is for kangaroo, and insula is Latin for island. It was a nice thing having the children of Kangaroo Island naming a species that’s only known here.”

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How dangerous is the new spider discovery to humans?

Describing and naming animals is important to taxonomists like Marsh, because doing so enables them to be protected.

Since making her discovery, Marsh has spotted several others around the island, but she believes they are probably “quite rare”. Because they live on tidal creek banks, rising sea levels from climate change is a likely threat.

A close up look at a Blakistonia rooinsula.
Children at a local high school named the spider Blakistonia rooinsula. Source: Dr Jessica Marsh

While Blakistonia rooinsula is probably venomous, like most Australian spiders their bite is probably not particularly dangerous to humans.

“With these spiders, the fangs are large enough certainly to pierce the skin. Some species you come across are very defensive… but these ones were much less so, you’d probably have to provoke them to get bitten. Still I’d probably approach them with caution,” Marsh said.

The description of Blakistonia rooinsula has been published in the Australian Journal of Taxonomy. Marsh is the Conservation Lead at Invertebrates Australia, a councillor at the Biodiversity Council, a member of the IUCN Spiders and Scorpions Specialist Group, and Adjunct Research Fellow of Arachnology at Murdoch University and an Honorary Research Associate at the South Australian Museum.

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