Wood said, "These spiders attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar". The pelican spider is both a "living fossil" and a "Lazarus taxon" (an organism that gives the appearance of being resurrected from prehistory because its fossils were found before living versions).
"I think there's going to be a lot more species that haven't yet been described or documented", Hannah Wood, curator of arachnids and myriapods at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and author of the study, said in a statement.
Pelican spiders are active hunters, the paper said. Its favorite meal: other spiders. A scientist has been studying hundreds of specimen coming from Madagascar and in that process, has found 18 new species belonging to an assassin, spider-eating pelican spider, which is equipped with tong-like jaws which help it effortlessly grab prey.
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This pelican spider is dangling its spider prey upside-down using its chelicerae after capturing it. Madagascar sits at the heart of the pelican spider's ancestral origins, and Wood and study coauthor Nikolaj Scharff think it's likely that the spiders have had a dynamic evolutionary history in isolation.
How the pelican spider got its name is no mystery. They're called pelican spiders because their huge jaws resemble seabirds beaks, National Geographic explains. Pelican spiders eat nothing but spiders.
Eriauchenius milajaneae (pictured above) is one of the 18 new species of pelican spiders from Madagascar described by the scientists. The highly modified head and carapace allows for extremely manoeuvrable jaws that can be extended 90 degrees away from the body to attack spider prey at a distance. As their victim struggles and potentially tries to attack their captor, the pelican spider keeps them at arm's length as they die from an injection of deadly venom. In doing so, Wood was able to define 26 species from the island - 18 of which had never been described before. However, when intrepid scientists found the living pelican spiders, they were dubbed "living fossils". The new species of pelican spiders have same elongated neck and beak-like pincers or chelicerae like other pelican spiders.
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Wood says fossilised remains of pelican spiders have turned up in the northern hemisphere but the distribution pattern of living examples - Madagascar, South Africa and Australia - suggests their ancestors were dispersed to these landmasses when the earth's supercontinent Pangaea began to break up around 175 million years ago.
Because Madagascar's wildlife is so poorly studied, the California Academy of Sciences launched an arthropod inventory in 2000, filling it with spiders and other invertebrates collected from throughout the island.
Wood noted that as with most things, this hunch has yet to be tested experimentally with pelican spiders themselves, saying she has not yet seen a pelican spider eat one of its own.
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