An international team of biologists has discovered a new genus of velvet spider and named it after Lou Reed, an American rock musician and songwriter.
Velvet spiders include some of the most beautiful arachnids in Europe and some of the world’s most cooperative species.
Social species can be very abundant in parts of tropical Africa and Asia with conspicuous colonies dotting the landscape. Social colonies may consist of hundreds of closely-related individuals that participate in dramatic mass attacks on prey and care for their young.
The ecology of these social species is fascinating and has been the subject of several landmark scientific papers.
By contrast, most kinds of velvet spider are rarely encountered. Most species keep well hidden or dig burrows and live underground. Because of the cryptic habits of most velvet spiders, scientific knowledge of this spider family is uneven to say the least.
The name velvet spider accurately describes the dark and shiny appearance of these creatures. Some species also have brightly colored highlights, such as the red, white, and black ladybird spiders of Europe and North Asia. With the exception of one species from Brazil, velvet spiders live in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The international group of biologists assembled to advance basic knowledge about velvet spiders included people and institutions from the Netherlands, Denmark, United States, Czechia, Hungary, and Iran. Their results appear in a special issue of the open access journal ZooKeys.
The group collected a hefty library of images documenting the anatomy of all the major kinds of velvet spider. This included both portrait-like color photographs and electron micrographs showing details of the spigots that these spiders use to make silk.
The researchers also used DNA sequence data to reconstruct the evolutionary history of velvet spiders.
They found that one particularly enigmatic species belongs to a new genus. In recognition of the fact that this velvet spider lives underground, the new genus has been named Loureedia in a whimsical salute to the musician who began his distinguished career leading the 60s rock band “The Velvet Underground.”
Bibliographic information: Miller JA et al. 2012. The velvet spiders: an atlas of the Eresidae (Arachnida, Araneae). ZooKeys 195: 1–144; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.195.2342