The Pine Rockland Trapdoor spider was first discovered at Zoo Miami in 2012 but wasn't officially identified as a new species until recently

By Joelle Goldstein
April 26, 2021 04:17 PM
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The Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider
The Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider
| Credit: Zoo Miami

Scientists have discovered a new species of a venomous spider in Florida, close to 10 years after it was initially spotted in a forest surrounding Miami's zoo.

In a press release on April 14, Zoo Miami announced that their staff had helped officially identify a new species of large spider called the Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider.

The spider, whose Latin name is Ummidia richmond, was first found in 2012 in a "critically endangered pine Rockland forest" near Zoo Miami by a zookeeper who was checking reptile research traps, according to the release.

At the time, the zookeeper snapped a photo of the spider and shared it with the Zoo's Conservation and Research Department in hopes of identifying it, but the zoo said the spider "never matched any existing records for known species in the region."

However, after years of research and evaluations, Dr. Rebecca Godwin of Piedmont College in Georgia finally confirmed that the spider — which is related to tarantulas — was a new species that had previously gone unknown, the release stated.

"Zoo Miami staff is grateful to Dr. Godwin for years of work in confirming the identification of this new species and are inspired that discoveries like this can still be made, even in the middle of a large developed region like the Greater Miami Area," the Zoo said in a statement.

Zoo Miami
Zoo Miami
| Credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP/Shutterstock

According to Godwin's findings, which were published in a study earlier this month, the trapdoor spider is known for building silk-lined burrows that are difficult to find and are usually constructed with cork-type doors.

Experts at the zoo said this spider is considered to be a "habitat specialist" and some of the longest-living species around, often with the ability to live "for decades in the same burrow."

As their name suggests, the spiders typically hide in those burrows under a "trap door" and wait until they can ambush their prey, which are often insects and small invertebrates, Frank Ridgley, who works as Zoo Miami's Conservation & Veterinary Services manager, told The Daily Mail.

"Spiders like this often rely on their size and strength to subdue their prey, and the venom often acts to help break down and liquefy the insides of their prey," Ridgley explained to the outlet. "They spend their entire lives in that same burrow, waiting for prey to come past their trapdoor, then they lunge out from their camouflaged lair to grab their prey."

When it comes to their appearance, Ridgley said the spiders look like "a small shiny black tarantula."

Added Godwin to the Daily Mail: "They have a rough carapace on their front half and a silvery-grey abdomen with a light-colored patch on top. They're really quite beautiful spiders."

According to the experts, the male trapdoor spiders are roughly the size of a quarter while females are two to three times larger. The insect also has a bite that, for humans, would be as painful as getting a bee sting, the outlet reported.

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And though the spiders can be eaten by birds or parasitized by wasps, Godwin and Ridgley said their biggest threat is losing their habitat.

In the Zoo's press release, they noted that "it is likely that this endemic and elusive spider is already imperiled" due to the fact that only "about 1.5% of the Pine Rocklands outside Everglades National Park are left in Miami-Dade County."

"Trapdoor spiders, on the whole, are very poor dispersers and tend to have very small ranges," Gowin told the Daily Mail. "It is likely that this species is limited to this small area of threatened habitat and subsequently could be threatened itself."

"The fact that a new species like this could be found in a fragment of endangered forest in the middle of the city underscores the importance of preserving these ecosystems before we lose not only what we know, but also what is still to be discovered," Ridgley added in the release.

"Venoms of related species have been found to contain compounds with potential use as pain medications and cancer treatments," he noted.