Photo in the News: Bizarre Assassin Spiders Discovered in Madagascar

Photo: Assassin spider
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March 8, 2006—With its fearsome appearance, poisonous bite, and deadly hunting skill, this newly discovered creature lives up to its name: assassin spider.

Researchers working in Madagascar recently discovered this and eight other species of assassin spiders—a family of arachnids that feast on other eight-leggers—during a four-year survey of the island nation's forests.

Assassin spiders have been known to live in Australia and South Africa. But the new find, made by biologists from the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, nearly doubles the number of known species.

What's more, the scientists say these newfound spiders are exquisitely evolved—if grotesque-looking—killers.

The spiders stab their prey with their giant jaws, which are barbed at the ends with venomous fangs. To be able to lift their outsized jaws, the assassins evolved elongated necks, giving the spiders a unique ability to strike from a distance.

But arachnophobes can relax: Assassin spiders are a mere eighth of an inch (two millimeters) long and are harmless to humans.

Blake de Pastino

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