Ant–eating spider with ‘lock and key’ genitals discovered

PHOTO: The Nosterella pollardi species has unique genitals not found in other spiders.

PHOTO: The Nosterella pollardi species has unique genitals not found in other spiders. Photo: ABC (Supplied/Queensland Museum)

A Queensland scientist has discovered a new species of ant-eating spider and named it after a new friend following a chance meeting.

Queensland Museum arachnologist Barbara Baehr discovered the spider, Nosterella pollardi, while researching a paper on specimens in the museum’s collection.

ant eating spider Queensland

The small ant-eating spider can only be found on Lord Howe Island. Photo: ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe

The male’s unique genitals separated it from other ant-eating spiders due to its well-developed hood, which aids reproduction.

“The genitals work like a lock and key together, making each one specific to the species,” Dr Baehr said.

The small brown spider, which measures one centimetre in length, can only be found on Lord Howe Island, off the NSW coast.

The species lives with ants, mimicking their appearance and making it hard for the ants to recognise the predator.

“They’re also unique as they often make pheromones like ants so the ants can’t detect them,” Dr Baehr said.

Naming the spider after a new friend

Dr Baehr named the pollardi species after Queensland microbiologist and Griffith University Associate Professor Peter Pollard.

The two crossed paths when she was trying to sell her vintage bike.

“I put it on Gumtree and a day later I met Peter Pollard,” Dr Baehr said.

Barbara Baejr ant eating spider

Barbara Baehr and Peter Pollard holding a sample of the newly found spider species. Photo: ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe

“I did some research on him and discovered he was a microbiologist and he had changed how we thought about the waterways here in Queensland, so I thought he was a great match.

“I wanted to name a species after someone who had done great things for Queensland as I wanted to honour them.”

The next best thing to being named Australian of the Year

Associate Professor Pollard said he was “flabbergasted” when Dr Baehr asked if she could name a spider after him.

“You can only have one Australian of the Year, but to me this is the best next thing,” he said.

“I’m a water person and I had spent my whole life studying virus and algae in water, so the fact that this spider is only found on Lord Howe works.

“Being honoured with a named species of spider was amazing.”

He said the description of his career written by Dr Baehr, which sits within the research paper, was touching.

“The way Barbara wrote the etymology that goes with the species name was such a beautiful summary of what I had spent my life doing.

“I hope it starts a life-long friendship.”

Giving science a human touch

The spider was one of eight new species discovered by Dr Baehr during her research.

She said they demonstrated the diversity Australia held.

“Australia has half a million species of animals and 70 per cent of them are not described or known,” she said.

“I’m a bit of a spider woman and I see this as my contribution to the knowledge to the country’s wild state.”

She hopes more scientists will look at highlighting achievements of others when naming new species.

Dr Baehr’s research paper on the Australian genus Nosterella was released this week as part of the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum.

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