Desis bobmarleyi: New underwater spider species named after Bob Marley builds air chambers from silk

Aquatic creatures found living on the shoreline by the Great Barrier Reef

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Friday 22 December 2017 17:42 GMT
The new species of spider inhabits the shores of north eastern Queensland, Australia
The new species of spider inhabits the shores of north eastern Queensland, Australia (R Raven)

A new species of semi-aquatic spider has been discovered scuttling over corals exposed by the receding tides on an Australian beach.

The spider has been named Desis bobmarleyi in honour of the legendary reggae musician and his song “High tide or low tide”, by the scientists who discovered it.

Desis bobmarleyi belongs to a family of marine spiders with special behaviours that allow them to survive submersion in water.

An individual of the newly discovered species Desis bobmarleyi on brain coral at low tide (Paul Hoye)

They seem to have adapted to an underwater lifestyle by hiding in air-filled pockets in rock cavities, shells and seaweed.

While the tide is high and the spiders’ homes are covered by water, they build silk chambers in these pockets to seal themselves inside, allowing them to breath.

Then, at low tide, they emerge from their chambers to feed on small shore-dwelling creatures, which they pierce with their large jaws.

It is partly this behaviour that inspired the unusual name for the new species, but it’s not the only reason.

“The song ‘High tide or low tide’ promotes love and friendship through all struggles of life,” said Dr Barbara Baehr, a spider expert at Queensland Museum, who co-authored the study describing the new spider.

“It is his music that aided a field trip to Port Douglas in coastal Queensland, Australia, to collect spiders with a highly unique biology.”

The description of the species was published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics. Male and female specimens were found living on coral along the shoreline by the Great Barrier Reef.

The discovery adds to the limited understanding of these spiders, including two of its previously known, but poorly understood, relatives from Samoa and Western Australia.

Dr Mike Gray at the Australian Museum described in a blog post how marine spiders had once been common residents of Sydney harbour, but were relatively unknown now.

“Although marine spiders are known from many areas of the Australian coast, it appears that people rarely notice them,” wrote Dr Gray.

Expressing concern that sightings of the spiders appeared to have decreased in recent times, he wrote: “The worst scenario is that marine spiders are locally extinct in Sydney harbour.”

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