KZN Museum scientist discovers new spider species

2019-02-19 16:06
Dr John Midgley, assistant director of natural science at the KZN Museum, holds up a photo of the Ceratogyrus attonitifier — a new species of baboon spider he discovered in Angola. PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

Dr John Midgley, assistant director of natural science at the KZN Museum, holds up a photo of the Ceratogyrus attonitifier — a new species of baboon spider he discovered in Angola. PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

A 15cm-long spider with orange hair and blue-green feet that was found in Angola has been confirmed as a new species among the horned baboon spiders, thanks to a soft “horn” to devour its prey, rather than a hard horn common to this genus.

KZN Museum scientist Dr John Midgley, who is the assistant director of natural science at the museum, made the discovery in late 2016. It was confirmed as a new species on February 6, and named Ceratogyrus attonitifier — attonitifier being a Greek word meaning “one that brings astonishment”.

Midgley told The Witness he knew right away that it was unlike anything seen before. “In some species of baboon spider there are little projections [or horns] on the back of the carapus muscle, this gives it more power to devour its prey. This spider doesn’t have that; it has a strange soft projection with no muscles. It looks completely ‘wrong’.

“It’s so bizarre: it is something that doesn’t look like it should exist.”

Midgley made the discovery while conducting a biodiversity survey commissioned by the Angolan government, which was seeking to set up national parks. He said exploration in Angola has been difficult in the past because of the civil wars and during colonial rule.

The team was looking at the possibility of the Angolan government setting up conservation sites around bodies of water that feed the Okavango Delta.

“The Delta has been conserved for decades, but whatever happens upstream will have consequences for the main area, so the point of our survey was to collect data to motivate for the creation of conservation sites.”

Midgley said a spider burrow had caught his eye. “I took out one spider and it looked very strange. We found two more burrows and found similar spiders and were confident we had found something new.

“Normally new species are discovered under a microscope while working through samples, but in this one I felt immediately this was new.”

He said he will now work on trying to find out more about the spider, including what effect its environment has over why its horn developed in this unusual way. “One of the wonderful things about being a scientist is that we can say ‘I don’t know — but I will find out’.”

Midgley said they were keeping the exact location of the spiders under wraps to prevent illegal trading in the spiders.

Baboon spiders are a subfamily of tarantulas and are native to Africa. Little is known about their biogeography and ecology but readers can help map the distribution of southern Africa’s baboon spiders by posting photos to the website:

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  spiders

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.