Despite its threatening-sounding name, the whip spider is actually pretty harmless to humans. Although unfortunately, that courtesy is not always reciprocated, which is why several newly discovered species could soon be facing the prospect of extinction.
Members of the Amblypygi order – also known as whip spiders or tailless whip scorpions – are arachnids that use six of their legs for walking and the other two as antenna-like "feelers." The discovery of the eight new species brings the total number of Amblypygi species in Brazil to 25, which is more than any other country – although with human activity threatening the survival of these spiders, the South American country may not hold that record for very long.
According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, four of the eight previously unknown species have a “high degree of endangerment.” This is partly due to the fact that all of these species are only found in, or endemic to, very specific sites. One particular whip spider – dubbed Charinus bichuetteae – is found only in a single cave in the state of Pará, for example.
However, if the construction of the proposed Belo Monte hydroelectric dam goes ahead, this cave will end up underwater, likely leaving Charinus bichuetteae extinct. Other human activities threatening the survival of whip spiders in Brazil include highway construction and mining.
All eight new spiders belong to the Charinus genus, with each species being named after a prominent arachnologist. By documenting the features of the specimens, the study authors hope to contribute to the understanding of whip spider anatomy. For instance, they note that, like other similar species found across the world, the spiders’ legs are divided into either two or three segments, but never four. A “rounded, cushion-like gonopod” (female genitalia) was also a common feature among all of the new finds, with slight variations in this organ offering a means of telling species apart.
Another key feature that enabled the researchers to differentiate between the spiders was the presence or absence of eyes in the middle of the head.
Summarizing the significance of their discovery, the study authors note that “with the increasing threats towards the Amazon forest it is important to unveil whip spider diversity before they disappear, as most of them are extremely sensitive to environmental changes.” In doing so, they hope to play a key role in “identifying priority areas for directing conservation efforts.”