Students discover new species of spider

As film buffs queue to watch the new Spider-man movie, geography students from the University of Sussex have gone one better by discovering a new species of spider in the wild.

The second year undergraduates were taking part in a field course to the Seychelles, one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. As part of this trip the students were responsible for helping to set insect traps in the Vallée de Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Praslin, the second-largest island in the main Seychelles group.

An undisturbed tract of palm forest, the area is renowned for being home to the remarkable Coco de Mer double coconut, as well as vanilla orchids and a host of rare birds and lizards. Because of its fame, the site is frequently visited by biologists and, as a result, is one of the most-sampled places on the islands.

The flora and fauna of the valley is incredibly diverse, and currently forms part of a study being undertaken by the Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles (with whom the students were working) as part of their conservation work on the islands.

To the delight of the students, the contents of the insect traps revealed a species of spider that is completely new to science. Named Opopaea suspecta, it is tiny, with a smooth, brown body and pale yellowish legs.

Dr Michael Frogley, Lecturer in Physical Geography, said: “There are around 250 species of spider in the Seychelles, most of them ridiculously small. The new one is actually quite large, by comparison. But at 1.6mm long I don’t think it’s going to be tackling the Green Goblin or Spider-man’s other enemies in a hurry.”

Dr Justin Gerlach, scientific co-ordinator of the Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles (NPTS), has just published a description of the new species of spider in the current issue of Phelsuma (volume 10), an annual journal concerned with the biology, geology and conservation of the Western Indian Ocean.

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