A terrifying new tarantula-like spider species that uses a trapdoor to hunt prey has been discovered – and it lives for decades.
The Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider was originally found in the grounds of Zoo Miami in 2012.
Its identity remained a mystery for more than two years, until a second specimen was caught and the zoo sought help.
And the venomous spider – likely an “ambush predator” – has now finally been confirmed as a previously-undescribed species.
“To me, it appears similar to a small shiny black tarantula,” said zoo conservation chief Frank Ridgley.
“Similar species are ambush predators. They create a web burrow down into soft and sandy substrate with a hinged door at the surface.
“They spend their entire lives in that same burrow, waiting for prey to come past their trapdoor, then they lunge out from their camouflaged lair to grab their prey.”
The spider was identified as a new species by Dr Rebecca Godwin, of Piedmont University in Georgia.
“I had no doubt that it was a new species,” she said.
She believes the female spider has a lifespan upwards of 20 years.
The male takes up to seven years to mature before it leaves its burrow to find a mate, dying shortly after.
“The individuals that zoo staff encountered were wandering males,” Dr Godwin said.
“They have a rough carapace (shell) on their front half and a silvery-grey abdomen with a light-coloured patch on top.
“They’re really quite beautiful spiders.”
For humans, the spider’s venom is on par with a bee sting, Dr Ridgley said.
“But, the venom is effective against the small invertebrates that it might go after,” he continued.
“Spiders like this often rely on their size and strength to subdue their prey, and the venom often acts to help breakdown and liquefy the insides of their prey.”
The spiders themselves can be eaten by birds or parasitised by wasps, whose eggs will hatch and devour them.
But the real danger to the arachnid is the loss of its habitat, Dr Ridgley believes.
“I was both elated and worried by the discovery,” he said.
“Who doesn’t want to be part of discovering something like a new species? As a scientist, that is a dream come true.
“The other side of this discovery is that I am intimately familiar with the unique and globally critically-endangered habitat it comes from.
“So I immediately thought that it is likely already imperilled.”
Locally, only 1.5 per cent of the spider’s pine rockland habitat survives outside Everglades National Park, according to Zoo Miami.
Dr Godwin added: “Trapdoor spiders on the whole are very poor dispersers and tend to have very small ranges.
“It is likely that this species is limited to this small area of threatened habitat and subsequently could be threatened itself.”
With legs extended, the male is approximately the size of a one Euro coin.
The female is estimated to be two to three times larger.