MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) – The staff at Zoo Miami helped discover a brand new species of large spider in the critically endangered Pine Rockland forest surrounding the zoo.
The Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider, scientifically known as Ummidia richmond, was first found by a zookeeper who was checking reptile research traps in 2012. Officials with Zoo Miami say the zookeeper shared a photo of the spider with the zoo’s Conservation and Research Department for identification, however, it didn’t match any existing records for known species in the region.
Over two years later, another spider was found and sent to experts for evaluation.
Zoo Miami said the spider made its way to Dr. Rebecca Godwin of Piedmont College in Georgia who was in the process of looking at this group of spiders, which are related to tarantulas.
Godwin was making detailed classifications and descriptions of the members of this Genus Ummidia, found in North America. She confirmed that this particular group of species was a “previously undescribed species,” according to Zoo Miami.
“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,” said Zoo Miami Conservation & Veterinary Services Manager Frank Ridgley. “Venoms of related species have been found to contain compounds with potential use as pain medications and cancer treatments.”
According to Zoo Miami, spiders of this type are usually habitat specialists and can live for decades in the same burrow for their entire life. They are known to be some of the longest-lived spider species known.
At this time, the species has not been documented for 35 years anywhere else except the pine rockland fragments around Zoo Miami. The zoo’s staff said it has only found a handful of males through the years and a female of the species has yet to ever be found.
Considering only about 1.5 percent of the pine rocklands outside Everglades National Park are left in Miami-Dade County, it is likely that this endemic and elusive spider is already imperiled.
For more information on the trapdoor spiders, visit the Washington Post’s website for an in-depth article.