Spider project aiming to find 100 species

·2-min read

Since the discovery of Australia's first wishbone spider in 1873, another 45 species of the weirdly fearsome, burrowing arachnid have been identified nationwide.

Yet experts are convinced there may be another hundred of them out there, waiting to be classified.

Queensland Museum Network arachnologist Dr Jeremy Wilson has ambitiously given himself three years to complete the task.

Wishbones inhabit a narrow chute in the soil, the entrance to which is lightly laced with silk that they hope their next meal will become tangled in or tumble through into their lair.

Unlike other trapdoor spiders, though, they construct a second entrance with a lid that becomes an escape route in the event of attack. It's also thought this passage acts as an air pocket if flooding occurs.

In any event, the two entrances give the burrow a y-shape, like a wishbone.

Having already completed their first field trip into central Queensland, Dr Wilson and his team have uncovered 24 new specimens, eight of them they believe are critical to the study.

The initial goal was to 'rediscover' Aname pallida, identified a century-and-a-half ago by renowned German taxonomist Ludwig "Spider" Koch in the since-named Whitsunday region.

"This particular spider was first described ... around the town of Bowen, so we went searching in several habitats there to try to find it again," Dr Wilson said.

"We have to understand what the currently known species of wishbone spiders look like so we can recognise new species, that's why we returned to the location of the first species ever described."

While a number of yet-to-be named members of the genus are Queenslanders, they can be found throughout the continent, most commonly in the drier west.

Accordingly, Dr Wilson will be based at the Western Australian Museum and the University of Western Australia for the final two years of his research.

Joint investigator Dr Michael Rix will stay on at Queensland Museum throughout.

"This is an amazing project to be a part of, with a principal aim of performing a complete taxonomic revision of the Australian endemic mygalomorph spider genus Aname," he said.

"Using molecular sequencing we will be able to study the evolution of the group across Australia, which will be very exciting."

The scientist's $7.6 million collaboration has been partly funded by BHP.