New species of sea spider identified from Heard Island waters

Sea spider specimen with legs uncurled
A sea spider at full stretch (Photo: Michelle Nichols)
Dr Genefor Walker-Smith, Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Kirrily Moore, Australian Antarctic Division and David Staples from Museum VictoriaSea spiderThree species of sea spider from TMAG's collectionSea spider

28 June 2006

Ten new species of sea spiders have been identified in a collection of invertebrates from the Southern Ocean.

Sea spiders, or pycnogonids, are an obscure group of marine animals that get their name from their strong resemblance to true spiders.

The sea spiders were collected, along with many other invertebrates, from around Heard Island in March and April 2003 as part of a marine science project by the Australian Antarctic Division.

Melbourne-based researcher David Staples from Museum Victoria identified the new species during a recent visit to Hobart to examine the collection.

The large mixed samples were weighed and frozen, then returned to the AAD for detailed sorting and preservation by Kirrily Moore.

Kirrily has been working closely with Dr Genefor Walker-Smith, Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

David Staples has spent the past week in Hobart, based at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery's (TMAG) Collection and Research Facility at Rosny where the spider collection is housed.

So far, 24 species have been recorded and of those, more than ten have never been described before.

Smaller sea spiders are abundant in Tasmania's local waters but are rarely seen.

It is at the great depths where the most fascinating species are found and they are often giant forms with leg spans of 30-50 cm.

Some are common eight legged spiders, but species with additional pairs of legs also co-exist in this environment.

Perhaps the most unusual of these is a large 12-legged species first collected in the Antarctic by Sir Douglas Mawson, later named in his honour.

Part of the TMAG's role is to collect, preserve, and research and interpret the physical evidence of the natural and cultural heritage of Tasmania.

The current/ongoing research work and Mr Staples' trip to Tasmania was jointly funded by the AAD and the TMAG.

David Staples has now returned to Museum Victoria where he will work on formally describing the new species.

Results will be included in an Australian Antarctic Division report to the Department of Environment and Heritage on the status of the Conservation Zones around Heard Island.