Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unusual dry-country encounter

A little while back while searching for trapdoor spiders in the dryer open forest west of Kuranda I discovered an animal that I certainly didn’t expect to – a crab. The crab was living about 400mm underground in a burrow not dissimilar to that of trapdoor and wolf spiders, only that it lacked silk lining.  The burrow was about 30 metres from a dam and was within heavy clay soil. The crab is most likely an Inland Freshwater Crab, Austrothelphusa sp. – crabs that are well adapted for dry conditions. They can cope with extended drought conditions of up to 6 years and can survive sealed in their humid burrows until rains come. During this time they apparently can lose up to 50% of their body water and still survive.

I have recently visited the site again, and the area is now under water. This time I was able to find them in a more conventional way – in the water with a net!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Another Tiger Huntsman!

Another Tiger Huntsman (Typostola sp.) has turned up - only the second wild specimen that we have encountered since finding the first in 2006. The species is still undescribed and the only specimens in captivity (with us at Minibeast Wildlife and some at Melbourne Museum) are descendants from the original female which was gravid at the time of capture.

This specimen turned up in Kuranda inside a possum nesting box. It is an adult female in pristine condition. The couple who found it had not seen such a stunning spider before, so Googled its description and found the articles from the 2006 discovery - which ultimately led them to us. They had no idea that we were living in Kuranda, so once we had made contact they invited us over to collect the spider. Oddly this spider was sharing the nest box with a Brown Huntsman (Heterpoda jugulans), a Red House Spider (Nesticodes rufipes), and a nest of Sugar ants (Camponotus sp).

Only two other specimens have turned up to our knowledge since 2006. One collected near the Clohesy River appeared for sale online for $500 some months after the original discovery - we don't know what happened to that specimen. Another was found dead inside a house in Mossman after a pesticide treatment last year - photos were sent to Melbourne Museum for verification.

We now know that this species extends from Cairns, through Kuranda up to Mossman, and west as far as the Clohesy River. We suspect that the reason for so few specimens being found and that it has gone unnoticed for so long is due to a very secretive lifestyle - perhaps a canopy dweller that rarely comes close to the ground.

The stunning spider as photographed this afternoon.