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A new African spider discovered with a horn on it’s back

Credits : Ian Enelbrecht

A team of biologists have announced the discovery of a new species of spider with a strange appearance.  The spider has a long, soft horn protruding from it’s back. 

Those with a spider phobia, don’t worry: it is unlikely that you will ever come across one.  Unless you are travelling to Angola in central Africa.  In any case it is fairly recognisable! The new species, which has been freshly baptized Ceratogyrus attonitifer, can be distinguished by a sort of soft horn that protrudes from it’s back. Researchers have remarked that,  “no other spider in the world has a similar foveal protuberance.”   They published an article about this new species of spider in the African Invertebrates journal.

The horn’s use still unknown

Biologists Ian Engelbrecht and John Midgley from the University of Rhodes and Pretoria, in South Africa have recently come across this new species as part of the Okavango Wilderness Project from the National Geographic. The project aims to better understand the biodiversity of the Okavango watershed basin in Angola, Namibia and Botswana.  They hope that bycarrying out this project they can put in place sustainable means of conservation.

As for the soft horn and it’s function, entomologists still don’t have the answer.  Similar species of spiders also have a horn however it is smaller and harder.  For these spiders, their horn’s function is known.  However this new specie’s horn must have some other function.

“Spiders digest their prey externally, dissolving it into a kind of ‘bug soup’ in their mouth before ingesting it. The sucking stomach acts like a little pump that sucks the soup through the spider’s oral cavity and onwards into the rest of the digestive system,” Engelbrecht explains.  Normally a horn on a spider helps the muscles used in the digestive process making them larger and more efficient.  However researchers believe this new specie’s horn must have a different function “as it is not solid and muscular as in other species.”

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Ceratogyrus attonitifer new species, discovered in Angola. Credits: Ian Enelbrecht

Already known in the region

The species was, until now, unknown in the realm of science and so there are clearly many questions being asked without a solidified response. This is why researchers are looking fr help from the local inhabitants of the watershed basin. These locals know about the C. attonitifer and it has even been named Chandachuly in the luchazi language, spoken in Angola and Zambia. Locals have said the sting of the spider bite is not necessarily dangerous for humans.  However they have said that it can become infected in there is a limited access to medical attention.  John Midgley also noted that “Tarantulas generally only attack insects.”

According to the local inhabitants Ceratogyrus attonitifer spiders generally live in hidden warrens in tufts of grass.  The spiders don’t shy away from “enthusiastically” attacking predators or another spider that comes into their home.  It also appears that female spiders make use of existing warrens instead of digging their own holes.

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