Sat August 18, 2012 9:09pm
Amateur cave explorers have found a new family of spiders in the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, and scientists have dubbed it Trogloraptor - Latin for cave robber - for their fearsome front claws.
The explorers sent specimens to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which has the West Coast's largest collection of spiders.
Entomologists there say the spider - reddish brown and the size of a half dollar - evolved so distinctly that it requires its own taxonomic family - the first new spider family found in North America since the 1870s.
"It took us a long time to figure out what it wasn't," said Charles Griswold, curator of arachnids at the academy.
"Even longer to figure out what it is. We used anatomy. We used DNA to understand its evolutionary place. Then we consulted other experts all over the world about what this was. They all concurred with our opinion that this was something completely new to science.
"It's a good example of how science works - professional and citizen scientists share information," he added.
The discovery is described in the Friday online edition of the journal ZooKeys.
Jonathan Coddington, curator of arachnids at the Smithsonian Institution and associate director for science at the National Museum of Natural History, agreed that the spiders represent a family never seen before.
"This is really a distinct event," he said. "To walk out in the woods and find an example of an ancient lineage that no one has ever seen before is special."