Whenever Bigfoot is discussed, experts like to throw out facts about new species being discovered all the time. And rightly so. Not that it proves the big guy (or gal) exists, but it does a lot to silence the skeptics who believe we’ve found every animal on the planet already. I’m all for healthy debate, but the holier-than-thou attitude sucks. So with that, I somewhat ironically present to you the discovery of the Trogloraptor, dubbed “the Bigfoot of spiders.” Where does this little fella reside? In the Pacific Northwest, natch.
Just when you thought it was safe to go stomping ‘round in the caves of Oregon, a new family of spider has been discovered, complete with frighteningly large legs and a terrifying name to boot. Meet: Trogloraptor, the arachnid which has already been called the “Spider Version of Bigfoot.”
The Pacific Northwest is often a place of beauty and exotic species, such as the coastal redwoods or the fabled Sasquatch, but now it may also be an area of sheer fright with the discovery of the “cave robber” spider. This relatively large spider got its name from the place which it lives and the way researchers believe it feeds on its prey.
“They live in caves, they make a few strands of silk from which they suspend themselves from the cave ceiling, and we think they simply hang their legs in the air, in the dark, and wait for prey to come by,” said Charles Griswold, Curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences in an interview with BBC News.
Though these feeding patterns have never been officially observed and recorded, Griswold and his colleagues suspect that once the Trogloraptor has its prey within its reach, it then snatches it up with its “remarkable claws and feet.” These claws and feet, say Griswold, resemble switchblade-like knives or hooks, and are used to “snap and trap” their prey.
This discovery is a historic one for the field of Arachnology: While there are many different species of spiders which exist in the world, this is the first time in 12 years that a new family of spiders has been called for. In 2000, a new family was needed to identify a newly discovered arachnid in South America, according to Griswold. As for North America, it’s been well over 100 years since a new family has been warranted to identify a new type of spider. Now, after 122 years of assuming we knew all we needed to know about creepy cave spiders, the Trogloraptoridae has been discovered and introduced into the world.
A team of “citizen scientists” from the Western Cave Conservatory, together with archeologists from the California Academy of Sciences and San Diego State University are credited with finding this new family of spider in the caves of southwestern Oregon, though these spiders have also been found elsewhere in the Western United States. Researchers from San Diego State University found even more of these spiders in old-growth redwood forests.
Together with Griswold, Joel Ledford, postdoctoral researcher, and Tracy Audisio, graduate student — each with the California Academy of Science — collected, analyzed and described the new Trogloraptoridae family.
With its half-dollar size and sharp, raptor-like claws, these scientists believe the Trogloraptor may have evolved in a very different way than most spiders. According to these scientists, the way the Trogloraptor is built suggests that it is a highly refined and specialized predator. In fact, these arachnologists suggest this new family of spider could have been considered part of the Goblin family of spiders. The new family’s set of ancient and evolutionary novelties, however, are what prompted the scientists to give this fierce, predatory spider a brand new family name.
The fact that this spider has eluded generations upon generations of scientists and researchers is a fact not lost on these arachnology teams. As such, they are still unclear as to how these spiders are distributed among the Pacific Northwest. Currently, they suspect more of these spiders could be lurking in the darkened caves of North America.
A study of the new family and its evolutionary and conservation significance is published in the open access journal Zookeys.
The spider looks a lot more menacing than it probably is. It looks like a face-hugger from the Alien films, but is only the size of a half-dollar. Still, it’s always exciting to see new species being discovered, and for us all to be reminded that none of us know as much as we think we do.