How the NZ trapdoor spider is frustrating researchers
The New Zealand trapdoor spider is one of our biggest spider species in the country. They prefer to live in clay and mud areas in tunnels that can extend to up to 30 centimetres each. As they grow into their adult bodies, they expand that tunnel to make more room.
And they’ve been frustrating researchers.
Trapdoor spiders have trap-jaws that close so quickly, even a high-speed camera is barely able to keep up to record the spider closing those jaws – which makes it extremely tough for Hannah Wood of the Smithsonian Institute to properly study this New Zealand species.
According to the NZ Herald, Wood’s first encounter with the trapdoor spider was in Chile, which, as part of southern South America, is the only other place in the world where you can find this species.
What made the spider stand out was how it would sit with its jaw wide open waiting for prey, and when an insect got close enough, it would snap those jaws shut with an unheard of level of power and speed.
“That kind of predatory behaviour had been seen before in some ants,” she explained, “but it was unknown in arachnids.”
The trapdoor spiders are small and notoriously difficult to catch. According to RadioNZ, the females of the species have been known to stay hidden in their tunnels for as long as 25 years, only coming out to snap their jaws shut on unsuspecting prey before dragging them back into the tunnel.
Once they are caught and studied, however, Wood believes that they may unlock fascinating insights into rapid-action mechanisms, as the trapdoor’s muscles are too small for this power and speed to come from them alone. Instead, it’s likely that this fast-shutting jaw is attributed to some other feature of the spider’s anatomy – something Wood, and many other researchers – hope to find out.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist