Scientists have identified three new species of bird-eating tarantulas, living in the jungles of Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.
The discovery was the work of Caroline Sayuri Fukushima, working at a Sao Paulo institute, and attempting to untangle over a hundred years of scientific muddle.
The three new spiders had not been noted before, Ms Fukushima said, because the classification of them was “a huge mess.”
Working at the Instituto Butantan, she and her colleagues sorted out the genus, which was first described in 1818.
They narrowed the number of Avicularia species from more than 50 to 12, including three new species of Avicularia that hadn’t been noted before.
The multi-year project involved tracking down ancient specimens from museums around the world, and deciphering original descriptions in Latin, French, Dutch, Portuguese and German. The scientists then compared the anatomical characteristics of these old identifications with those of spiders from modern zoos and museums.
The three new tarantulas that they identified, between 4-6.6 inches long, live in trees and feed on insects, bats and small birds.
One, A. caei, is found only in Brazil.
Another, A. lynnae, can be found in Ecuador and Peru.
The third, A. merianae, found only in Peru, was given its name in honour of the German naturalist Maria Sybilla Merian, who drew a famous illustration of an Avicularia tarantula eating a bird in 1705.
“This illustration gave origin to the name of the genus and the popular name birdeater spiders,” said Ms Fukushima, speaking to Live Science.com.
“People at that time did not believe in her observations, saying that a spider eating a bird was a female fantasy. Now we know she was right.”
The first Avicularia spider species was described in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy himself.
In 1818, French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first attempted to describe Aviculariaas a genus. He included three species in his grouping.
Over the years, other scientists added more and more spiders to the genus, but no one ever had a good sense of what made a tarantula an Avicularia, other than that they are large and fuzzy, and live in trees, feasting on everything from insects to bats to small birds.
Source: Telegraph UK