Thursday, November 21, 2013

A new species of spiders discovered in Satara

In 2010, when two researchers were busy observing migratory birds at a dam near Satara, Maharashtra, they spotted a distinct spider with a red stripe on its back. However, they just took a picture of it and left. "When we later researched this particular spider, we found out that it was called the Red-back spider. It had its origin in Australia but they were few records of it in India. We reported its existence in Satara district and this gradually got us interested in spiders," says Sidharth Kulkarni, who, along with his colleague Dr V Y Deshpande, spends much of his time at the zoology department of the Yashwantrao Chavan Institute of Satara (YCIS) studying spiders. 

 Image form Animal Discoveries 2012, ZSI

The two have now discovered a new species that belongs to the family of lynx spiders scientifically known as Oxyopidae. They have decided to name it Oxyopes Sataricus, after the Satara region.
The scientists, who are studying spider diversity in western Maharashtra, have worked together on chronicling the life stages of the Red-back spider Latrodectus hasselti, recording the scorpion-tailed spider for the first time in Maharashtra and some lynx spiders for the first time in India. "We are also hoping to study spiders as agents for controlling pests," says Deshpande. "Various spiders feed upon specific pests. Hence this research could bring out a natural and cost-free solution and possibly an alternative to chemical pesticides," says Kulkarni. 

Spiders belong to the class Arachnida and not Insecta. "The basic differentiation between these two classes is that the cephalic (head) and thoracic (thorax) region is fused in class Arachnida and called cephalothorax. Insects usually have antennae and three pairs of legs while in spiders, antennae are absent and they have four pairs of legs," says Kulkarni, adding that the ecological importance of the spiders is distinct from that of insects.