An elusive species of trapdoor spider has been spotted again in a small village in Portugal after a 92-year disappearance.
Fagilde’s trapdoor spider (Nemesia berlandi) was first described in 1931, after entomologists found a pair of females just outside the tiny northern Portuguese village of Fagilde. Based on the two specimens that were collected at that time, the females of the species have deep-brown bodies and are thought to grow up to 2.2 centimetres long.
The species belongs to a family of trapdoor spiders called Nemesiidae, whose members dwell in burrows with a hinged door to catch unsuspecting prey. Though no adult male N. berlandi have been observed, scientists think they behave similarly to males of closely related spiders, which perform a rhythmic tap dance at a female’s door to win a mate.
Since its discovery, Fagilde’s trapdoor spider has seemingly vanished, and the species was considered lost to science.
“It is so easy for us to miss them because they’re very cryptic. They have a trapdoor which just resembles whatever backdrop is in the area, like a leaf or moss,” says Sérgio Henriques at Indianapolis Zoo in Indiana.
In 2011, Henriques and his colleagues uncovered a series of horizontal burrows around Fagilde, suggesting that N. berlandi might be the only spider in its family that doesn’t build vertically.
Now, following two years of expeditions in the area, the researchers have finally caught sight of the reclusive spider.
They stumbled across a giveaway horizontal burrow and found a deep-brown female spider with its babies. The female matched the original 1931 description of Fagilde’s trapdoor spider.
“The finding was pretty much like winning the lottery while getting hit by lightning,” says Henriques.
To confirm that it was indeed N. berlandi, the team analysed samples of its DNA and found that it was unlike any other known trapdoor species.
Henriques and his colleagues hope that this rediscovery will spur conservation efforts for the spider, which lives in an area of the country that is increasingly under threat from wildfires and floods.