Giant new kind of tarantula discovered in Sri Lanka

  • @James_Legge

Scientists in Sri Lanka have discovered a huge new kind of tarantula.

Poecilotheria rajaei had originally been presented to the country's Biodiversity Education and Research (BER) organisation three years ago by villagers in the remote northern village of Mankulam, who had killed a male.

Scientists immediately realised the dead spider was not like anything they already knew and a group set out to find living specimens.

Its legs have unique daffodil-yellow markings and span 20cm. The arachnid also has a distinctive pink band around its body.

The living Poecilotheria rajaei were eventually discovered in the former doctor's quarters of the village's hospital.

Ranil Nanayakkara, the co-founder of BER, told "They are quite rare.

"They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings."

The species is said to be related to a class of South American tarantula that includes the Goliath bird-eater, one of the world's largest spiders.

Peter Kirk, who wrote about the discovery in the British Tarantula Society's journal, told Sky News: "Ranil has been working on these spiders since 2009 out in Sri Lanka and this is the first of what is thought to be a number of new species he has discovered in what was previously the inaccessible northern region of the island.

"It demonstrates that wildlife continues to survive whilst we are in the throes of conflict and that they can adapt to its changing environment - but also highlights that we risk destroying the habitats of species new to science and condemning them to extinction before they are even discovered."