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Species hunt unearths new tarantula in Top End

A new type of tarantula has joined the ranks of Australia’s native spider species. The tarantula, along with at least six other new species of spider, was discovered in Northern Territory’s Judbarra/Gregory National Park.

Words by Tejasvi Hari Krishna
 

The golden-brown tarantula was found during an expedition conducted last month. Sophie Harrison, a PhD student who is currently researching spiders at the University of Adelaide, unearthed the new species.

“We saw a burrow that looked like a tarantula burrow,” said Ms Harrison. “We dug a big pit next to it and at the bottom we found a beautiful new spider.”

Other discoveries included two types of trapdoor spiders – a brush-footed trapdoor and a saddle-kneed trapdoor, named for the brownish red markings on its knees.

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Ms Harrison believes that it is important for new species to be found and recorded.

“It is really important to know what’s out there,” she said. “Otherwise we don’t really know if these species are threatened.”

The discovery was confirmed by one of Queensland Museum’s leading spider experts, Robert Raven, who was part of the national park expedition organised by species discovery project Bush Blitz.

The expedition included 16 scientists from various fields. They were accompanied and helped by Indigenous rangers and traditional owners of Judbarra/Gregory National Park, which covers more than .

Michelle Cullen, of the Northern Land Council, said that the traditional owners’ knowledge of the area had helped in selecting the land for the expedition.

“The park is under a joint management arrangement where traditional owners and the Parks and Wildlife Commission work together as equal partners in the management of the park,” she said.

The 13,000 sq km park is home to more than 1000 native plant species and more than 400 species of native animals and insects.

“The park includes a variety of different habitats,” said Mr Kessne. “From sandstone and limestone areas to lowland grasslands and woodlands.”

He added: “With every new species that is found in parks it just goes to show how healthy the habitat is.”

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Mr Kessner believes that there is a possibility of discovering other new insect species within the national parks and conserved areas of Australia. 

“It is harder to discover new species of birds and mammals since a lot of people are interested in those animals,” said Mr Kessner. “I think there is more scope of discovery for invertebrate species.”

Bush Blitz is funded jointly by the federal Minister for the Environment and BHP Billiton and, according to Chief District Ranger Michael Kessner, “is basically Australia’s largest nature discovery program”. “We were fortunate enough to have them come to Gregory National Park.”

Since 2010, the project has helped in the discovery of more than 900 new species. Bush Blitz has also been responsible for locating 250 threatened species and recording 12,000 existing plant and animal species in new areas. 

Federal MP Bob Baldwin, who is parliamentary secretary to the Minister for the Environment, lauded Bush Blitz as a major achievement in Australia’s conservation efforts.

“By filling gaps in our biodiversity knowledge, Bush Blitz is helping underpin our conservation effort for a generation to come,” he said.

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