A new group of trapdoor spiders that builds burrows hidden by camouflaged doors has been discovered in eastern Australia. One of the almost 20 new species found in this group occurs in the suburbs of Brisbane.

The research team from Griffith University and the Queensland Museum named the group of spiders Cryptoforis, which means ‘cryptic door’, in reference to the burrows with hinge-doors made of leaves, twigs and silk, the spiders construct.

Lead author Dr Jeremy Wilson, photo by Eamon Amsters

Published in Cladistics, the research was led by former Griffith University PhD student Jeremy Wilson, now working as an arachnologist at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales in Argentina.

When a new group or ‘genus’ of animals is named, researchers must characterise a single species of that group which serves as the definitive reference point for the genus.

Dr Wilson selected a species from Brisbane as the reference species of this new group of spiders, naming it Cryptoforis hughesae, after his recently retired mentor and supervisor Emeritus Professor Jane Hughes, a world-renowned expert in population ecology, phylogeography, biogeography and evolutionary biology.

“Jane has had a huge impact on my development as a scientist, and no doubt on many others having mentored more than 70 postgraduate students and over 60 honours students,” Dr Wilson said.

“Naming this species of spider, which occurs in the forests that surround the Brisbane Griffith University campuses, seemed a fitting tribute for everything she has done for me and so many others at Griffith University.

“If you look carefully you can find this newly described species in most forests and natural reserves within Brisbane and the Brisbane valley.”

Burrow of Cryptoforis hughesae door closed, photo Dr Michael Rix

Burrow of Cryptoforis hughesae door open, photo Dr Michael Rix

“I was extremely pleased when Jeremy told me that he wanted to recognise Emeritus Professor Hughes’ extensive contributions in this way,” said co-author and Queensland Museum Principal Curator of Arachnology Dr Michael Rix.

Dr Wilson discovered that this widespread group of trapdoor spiders, found up and down the east coast of Australia, was actually a separate genus by comparing them to other trapdoor spiders from across Australia.

“We compared their physical appearance and the burrows they construct, and then looked for molecular differences in their DNA,” Dr Wilson said.

“We found differences in their physical appearance which allow them to be distinguished from other trapdoor spiders in eastern Australia.

Molecular differences confirmed that the researchers were dealing with an entirely new genus of trapdoor spider.

“The incredibly well hidden burrows they create were also different to other trapdoor spiders in eastern Australia, which is probably why this new group of spiders remained undiscovered in the past,” Dr Wilson said.

“This newly-described group of trapdoor spiders is far more widespread and diverse than we previously realised, and Jeremy’s meticulous research was instrumental in revealing this hidden fauna,” Dr Rix said.

“The discovery and description of this group of spiders adds to our knowledge of the diversity of the Australian invertebrate fauna, and is also the crucial first step towards protecting these elusive spiders,” Dr Wilson said.