Eighteen new species of pelican spiders have been discovered from the tropical rainforests of Madagascar. Also known as assassin spiders, these arthropods eat other spiders.
These scary-looking spiders were once believed to be extinct and they are similar to their ancient ancestors preserved in amber when it comes to appearance.
The research was conducted by a cohort led by Hannah Wood of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Wood spotted these species, which were never described by Science before.
The researchers had examined hundreds of examples of arachnids -- a class of joint-legged invertebrate animals – both through samples in museum collections as well as from the field.
South Africa, Australia and Madagascar are the places where the pelican spiders are found, in this research, the scientists focused only on the species found in Madagascar.
The researchers classified 26 different species which included the 18 new varieties discovered by them.
"Archaeid spiders, commonly called pelican or assassin spiders, are an ancient, paleoendemic group that has existed since Pangaean times," Mail Online reported quoting the study.
"These spiders do not build a web to capture their prey. Instead, they are active hunters. They attest to the unique biology that diversified in Madagascar. I think there's going to be a lot more species that haven't yet been described or documented," the authors added.
It was in 1854 that the Pelican spiders were first found in a block of 50-million-year-old amber. These assassin spiders were believed to be extinct until 1881 when they were spotted on the island of Madagascar. More species of these spiders have been discovered since then.
These spiders have existed for almost 165-million years and they are not bigger than the size of a rice grain.
The spiders are called pelican because of their resemblance to pelican birds. These spiders have an elongated neck-like structure and they got an angled beak on their heads from which their mouthparts hang.
The pelican spiders can be described as smart and methodical killers. They wait patiently for their prey. Their long neck and fang-tipped jaw help them attack their prey effectively.
These assassin spiders follow the silk trails left behind by other spiders till they track their prey.
The long jaw of the spider helps it stay safe by keeping its prey away from its body till it could kill its prey.
"Modern-day pelican spiders are described as 'living fossils' and have barely changed from the ancient relics found from the late Jurassic era," Mail Online quoted the report.
The spiders might have been there when the supercontinent Pangaea started breaking apart, almost 200 million years ago, the researchers assume.
These assassin spiders then started spreading to different continents after the supercontinent broke up.
The Madagascar Island is known to have produced unique animal species for quite long time and it has been broadly analysed by scientists. Though the island is an ecological gold mine, it is facing the danger of habitat loss and widespread deforestation.
"The discovery of so many new species is a prime reason to conserve what is left of its forest ecosystem," Wood was quoted as saying by Daily Mail