Scientists coin Stormtropis genus for smooth-legged spiders

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Friday, March 15, 2019

In findings published on March 14 in ZooKeys researchers led by Carlos Perafán and Fernando Perez-Miles of Uruguay's Universidad de la Republica and William Galvis of Universidad Nacional de Colombia announced six previously undiscovered species of spiders with hairless legs found during a field study in the Colombian Andes, a first for the country. Because four of the species do not fit into existing genera, they coined the genus Stormtropis after the cloned soldiers in the Star Wars films.

A bald-legged spider from Honduras.
Image: Stuart Longhorn.

According to the publication, to identify and describe the species, the researchers took photos with an Olympus camera and adapted these photos for further investigation using a stereomicroscope. The report also included a map of the then-known species habitat. According to the publication, the researchers had originally collected the specimens in field studies in 2016.

"The stormtroopers are the soldiers of the main ground force of the Galactic Empire. These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage, but with unskillful movements, like this new group of spiders. [...] We wanted to make a play on words with the name of the known genus, Paratropis, and of course, we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest sagas of all time," explained the researchers in a press release. Bald-legged spiders characteristically stick pieces of soil to their bodies, also giving them limited camouflage, though scientists are not sure how they accomplish this.

Scientists have had difficulty determining the precise taxonomic position of bald-legged spiders. The survey both confirmed existing ideas about bald-legged spiders and provided new information. The research team observed the spiders engaging in camouflage and ground-running but also found that a few of the species could burrow into the ground and the sides of rock formations, a first. They also recorded one species, Stormtropis muisca, living at the unusually high altitude of 3400 m (11,000 feet) in the Colombian Andes. The team plans to compose further papers specifically addressing some of these new findings.

Although bald-legged spiders have been found in many other places in South America, these are the first species to be confirmed in Colombia. These spiders, family Paratropididae, are part of the sub-order Mygalomorphae, which also includes trapdoor spiders and tarantulas.


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