Arachnologists have found a whole new genus of spiders in the deserts of Namibia and South Africa, and a couple of the new species seem to have some peculiar habits.
Recently, Peter Jäger and Henrik Krehenwinkel examined some spider specimens they had collected with their colleague Dirk Kunz back in 2004. They noticed that the spiders didn’t seem to fit well in any known spider genus, so they concluded that the spiders must belong to a new genus, which they dubbed May in honor of Bruno May, a patron of biodiversity research in Africa. When they searched through South African museum collections, they found three more new species to add to the genus. Jäger and Krehenwinkel published their findings in the journal African Invertebrates.
The new species — May bruno, May ansie, May rudy, and May norm — are huntsman spiders: large, long-legged spiders that hunt their insect prey instead of building webs. Most species like to hide in leaf litter, in crevices, or under loose tree bark, although the desert-dwelling spiders of genus May are more fond of burrowing in sand and skittering across gravel.
May bruno is the largest of the new spiders — about half an inch long, with legs that span about three inches. It digs tunnel-like burrows a foot deep in the sand and covers them with lids, which might be familiar to fans of trapdoor spiders. Like nearly all other spiders, M. bruno has a pair of appendages near its mouth, called palps, which are important to the spider’s senses of touch and taste. But M. bruno’s palps have a row of elongated hairs, which the spider probably uses to dig its burrows, according to Jäger and his colleagues.
Every female M. bruno specimen Jäger and his colleagues found had paired scars on their backs, which looked like healed injuries. None of the males had these scars, but the distance between the marks matched the distance between the fangs of male spiders, which raised a creepy possibility. “The scars could be part of a pre-copulatory courtship behavior,” they wrote. That’s right: these spiders leave serious hickies on their mates. Females from another new May species, May norm, had similar scars.