It might not be a new species, but with its unusual red-and-blue coloration, this mutant funnel-web spider (Atrax sutherlandi) looks eerily well-equipped to catch thieves (just like flies).
Discovered in New South Wales by invertebrate ecologist Mark Wong, the strange color-morph appears to be the first ever spotted in the area. These spiders typically appear a glossy black (Venom mode), so when Wong saw the pair of blood-red fangs during a routine survey, he knew he’d found something very special.
Because red pigment has been observed elsewhere in funnel-web spiders, Wong’s best guess is that we’re seeing a rare genetic mutation.”In this particular specimen it may be a case where the genes for red pigment are being expressed in the wrong tissue,” he told Australia Geographic. It’s also possible that “normal” funnel-webs do express these colors, only their melanin-heavy black tissue makes them difficult to see. “Perhaps in this specimen, the melanin genes have not been expressed, thus revealing the red pigmentation underneath,” he said.
One spider isn’t enough to fully understand what’s at play here, but Wong and his colleagues at Australia’s National University hope to get some answers over the coming months. They’ll continue to sweep the area in hopes of uncovering another, but as the venomous arachnids spend most of their time in subterranean web-bunkers, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“Studying arthropods is exploration at its finest,” says Wong. “You’re guaranteed to stumble onto something new, important, or just plain weird! Why? Because arthropods are the most diverse animals on our planet—in some places their species even outnumber mammals by 300 to 1! Researching these critters is thus not simply exciting but also incredibly meaningful to me. I suppose I just can’t resist dangerous things that bite!”
You might be surprised to know this isn’t the only Parker-impersonating spider that can be found down under, YouTuber Kurt Bell ran into this red ‘n black (family Nicodamidae) back in 2011: