A new species of button spider found in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

A NEW SPECIES OF BUTTON SPIDER FOUND IN KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA

Mature male (top left) and female (right) Phinda button spiders. Photo by Luke Verburgt.

New species of button spider found in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Spiders of the genus Latrodectus, along with tarantulas and jumping spiders, are probably the best known spiders in the world. They are commonly referred to as button spiders in South Africa, redback spiders in Australia, katipo in New Zealand, or widow spiders elsewhere. We at WTF Entomology, part of Wild Tomorrow Fund, are proud to announce our recent discovery of a new forest dwelling widow species which we have called the Phinda button spider. Although a scientific name has been chosen, we will only release it once the species description has been published, which is currently under review. NOTE: This blog is quite long and has been purposely written this way for anyone who wants to understand the process we went through.

Because the spider is a South African species, we will refer to it as a button spider instead of the more famous black widow moniker. The Phinda button spider is one of the largest button spiders in the world (if not the largest), and definitely larger than any of the other African species. They live specifically in a critically endangered forest type called sand forest which is unique to South Africa and southern Mozambique.

In February 2014 we got a phone call from Naomi Schutte, the wife of Tembe Elephant Park (Tembe) manager Richard Schutte. We had asked them to let us know if they saw anything interesting that crawls on 6 or 8 legs. Naomi had found a cool looking spider in the hollow of a tree in her garden. We rushed to see it first thing in the morning. This is how the first specimen was discovered in Tembe. My husband Clinton Wright and I had been living and working in Tembe at the time. We believed it to be a new species, but it was difficult to prove with just a single specimen. We observed and monitored the spider for over 2 years until she died of old age, then we collected her and sent her to a University for identification.

Button spiders can be difficult to identify, and with only a single specimen, it was initially thought to be the first record for a Zimbabwe button spider in KwaZulu-Natal. However we felt that this was not the correct identification and we then embarked on a journey of discovery that led us by chance to finally discover more specimens and describe this new and incredible button spider.

What stood out for us was the fact that the Tembe specimen had laid 3 (infertile) egg sacs that were bright purple. We could find no other button spider around the world that had a similar coloured egg sac. However, variations and anomalies do occur in nature and until we had more information, it was simply just a belief without proof.

Phinda button spider mature female ventral marking. Photo by Luke Verburgt.

Taxonomists in the entomology and arachnology world are a rare breed – and with so many species still being described – it was hard to find answers. We searched online and posted on social media but didn’t get any satisfactory responses. Slowly over time the spider became more of an afterthought and on the back burner. This all changed one day when Dr Ian Engelbrecht, a good friend and arachnid specialist, came to visit to do some scorpion work on our property Ukuwela, which borders on Phinda Private Game Reserve. When Ian arrived we went through our now familiar routine of showing various captures and specimens of interest, and ended as always with the showstopper, the button spider. Ian took one look at it and exclaimed, “Oh My God – that’s a new species”. Finally, to have someone with extensive knowledge to recognise and confirm what we had always believed. This still didn’t help us as we no longer had the specimen (it was sitting in a jar at a university) and we had no idea where to start.

We had booked a spider walk that week with Ryan Tippet in the sand forest of Phinda. We decided to show Ryan the pictures and ask him if he had seen anything similar in his spider walks in the region. As luck would have it, he had seen exactly this species on his last spider walk in Phinda, spotted by Tamsin Naylor, during a spider walk, and they knew exactly where she was. The next few days were some frantic phone calls and arrangements being made with Simon Naylor, the manager of Phinda, which ultimately led us to collecting 2 wild females and one egg sac. This was almost 4 years after the discovery of the first specimen. Phinda’s Ecologist, Craig Sholto-Douglas, then led us through many nights of searching and observing these spiders in the wild and she slowly became the star she was always meant to be. Robin Lyle, Luke Verburgt and Catherine Sole all joined our amazing journey and helped us further unravel the mysteries surrounding the Phinda button spider, each contributing in their unique way.

Before this discovery, there were 31 recognised species globally, with eight recorded from the African continent. Of these eight, six are endemic to Africa (Latrodectus cinctus, L. indistinctus, L. karrooensis, L. renivulvatus, and L. rhodesiensis), and all occur in Southern Africa. The brown button spider (L. geometricus) is believed to have originated from Africa or South America, and has been introduced to North America, parts of Europe, parts of Asia, and parts of Australasia. It is common in parts of southern Africa and is considered cosmopolitan. L. pallidus occurs from the Cape Verde Islands to Libya and L. tredecimguttatus from the Mediterranean to China. Both L. pallidus and L. tredecimguttatus are absent from sub-Saharan Africa. This, in the arachniverse, was a big discovery.

We spent the next year raising and feeding thousands of spiders. My young son Ricky was roped in to help find wild food (aphids, ants and fruit flies when small; termites and anything else as they grew larger) and raise the spiderlings. We raised the spiderlings from the two wild egg sacs with the aim of collecting a male as we have to this day never seen a male in the wild, and at the time had no idea what they looked like. The two wild caught specimens thrived in captivity under conditions mimicking their natural habitat, and they produced another 10 egg sacs in total while in captivity.

As each egg sac on average has about 584 spiderlings (471-692; n=4), this roughly translates to over 6400 spiderlings we raised in a very short time. Most of these we released back into their original habitat, while some we collected for DNA work and fecundity estimates. The purple egg sac is quite large and smooth, bright purple when fist constructed and fades over time to a silvery grey colour. We also noticed that when the egg sac wasn’t fertile, it remained a round shape, but when fertile, formed a tear drop shape, likely due to the weight as it hangs in the web. The spiderlings emerge around 29.9 (27-36; n=9) days after being laid and sometimes stay in the egg sac a few days before emerging, possibly waiting for ideal conditions. They are tiny and brown, with unique white markings. These markings remain the same throughout their life in both sexes, although change in colour and clarity.

In searching for a male, our first attempt yielded poor results as we left the spiderlings together for about a month, feeding them on aphids and fruit flies. This is when we noticed quite a bit of cannibalism, which urged us to separate them from each other. We randomly selected spiderlings and housed them alone to wait for signs of a male. There were very few males in this batch. The next egg sac we separated spiderlings randomly immediately after emerging, and there was a much higher ratio of males to females. It is possible that the females in the first group had targeted males when they started to grow, although this wasn’t tested and just noted for interest.

Males (in captivity) could be identified after about 15-20 days by their uniquely shaped pedipalps and were mature around 26 days. Once mature they stopped shedding and stopped eating and their colours slowly darken over time until it appears to be a uniform dark brown, but under light it still has the same general patterns as all specimens. Mature male abdominal colouration changes dramatically as it ages and fades. The colour of the abdomen of a young mature male is brown with light yellow-white oblong blotches dorsal median and laterally (with indistinct dark brown outlines), and no transverse light areas. Old mature males have a dark brown abdomen with darker brown irregular circle shapes (the same pattern and position) visible under bright light or flash photography.

In females the dorsal median and ventral markings turn yellow with white outline and overall brown colour darkens, until black and reaches maturity after ca. 6 months. Legs are initially banded, but turn uniform black in females when mature. General abdominal shapes, patterns, and positions thereof, remain relatively constant across males, females, and individuals and throughout their lifecycle, changing only in colour and clarity.

While we collected crucial observation data on the new button spider, my husband and I researched all Latrodectus species across the world for comparison. Just because this spider is new to the region or country, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have blown in or somehow made it across from, for example, Madagascar. We had to eliminate the possibility that these were already known to science. Button spiders are difficult to describe as there is no single attribute one can use to separate the species with confidence. Initially, colour patterns and characteristics of the abdominal setae where used to distinguish between species until Levi (1959) concluded that this was insufficient and recommended using genital morphology instead. Lotz (1994) suggested that the two methods should be used in combination to address the morphological overlap in certain species.

In the African species there are generally two “groupings” accepted and described by Lotz (1994). These are the (1) the geometricus species-group (L. rhodesiensis; L. geometricus) and (2) the tredecimguttatus species-group (L. tredecimguttatus; Latrodectus cinctus; L. indistinctus; L. karrooensis; L. renivulvatus; L. pallidus). These two groupings are more commonly referred to as Brown Button Spiders and Black Button Spiders respectively, although we don’t personally like using these “colour” terms. The Phinda button spider genetically is closest to the L. geometricus group, although visually resembles most closely certain members of the L. tredecimguttatus group. The Phinda button spider can be diagnosed from the other African species by the presence of both a distinct red marking on the ventral surface of the abdomen and a red stripe on the posterior dorsal surface of the abdomen. This species appears to be unique in that it produces a large egg case which is purple in colour when first produced, progressively fading to grey before the spiderlings emerge, while other African species either have a small white spikey egg sac or a large smooth or woolly white egg sac.

Mature males of the Phinda button spider are generally similar to or slightly smaller than other African species. The males can be diagnosed from other African species by having a yellow-white ventral marking anterior to the spinnerets and a yellow-white transverse ventral marking near the book lungs.

We then had to separate this species from all other Latrodectus species worldwide. This was quite an arduous task as some recognised species have very little information recorded and the genus as a whole needs to be revised. However, through persistence and gaining access to type specimens when possible, we were able to eliminate all previously described species. We were able to conclude that this was indeed a new species.

Almost all the specimens found in the wild were in tree hollows higher than 80cm off the ground. The one exception was found at 50cm above the ground. This differs from other African species as their refuges tend to be much closer to the ground.

This entire process has consumed our daily lives for a while now, but with the publication imminent, it will seem strange to move on to the next discovery. Finding something as unique and special as the Phinda button spider simply showcases the possibilities of what might still be out there waiting to be found. I hope that the next scientist, amateur arachnologist or arthropod-crazy hobbyist can get to experience the same joy we did in finding the Phinda button spider.

Source: Wild Tomorrow Fund

 

 

Major SA bank refuses to fund any canned hunting programmes

Major SA bank refuses to fund any canned hunting programmes

Major SA bank refuses to fund any canned hunting programmes

Nedbank, one of South Africa’s leading commercial banks, has announced that they will no longer “finance any activity constituting captive breeding of mammalian predator species for hunting or the exotic pet trade”. 

Blood Lions says the move is a significant and vital breakthrough for those fighting to end predator breeding, canned hunting and the exploitation of animals in the tourism industry.

According to a statement issued by Blood Lions, the move comes after the bank’s management “attended a number of workshops and engaged with interested and impacted stakeholders”, most notably the  Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), an organization at the forefront of the global campaign to end these activities.

“It has long been established that breeding predators for canned or captive hunts has nothing to do with conservation, but few have shown the vision to take an ethical stand. Nedbank have now done that. The Blood Lions team applauds Nedbank and EWT for their leadership on these issues and we appeal to South Africa’s other banks to follow this bold move,” says Ian Michler the investigative conservationist behind the canned lion hunting expose’. 

The move comes just days after the US dealt an equally massive blow to the canned lion industry in South Africa, banning the import of items from canned lion hunts, saying South Africa was unable to demonstrate the conservation value of canned lion hunting.

According the the director of the US Fish and Wildlife Services, Dan Ashe, lion trophies may only be imported from exporting nations like South Africa if they can provide evidence of the hunts benefiting the long-term survival of the species in the wild.

“Following our research into the issue we have taken an in principle decision not to finance any activity constituting captive breeding of mammalian predator species for hunting or the exotic pet trade. This decision will form part of the total policy and book review in 2016 to better manage the biodiversity impact of our lending decisions,” Nedbank states.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust also welcomed the decision, of which Nedbank is one of the proud founding partners of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s National Biodiversity and Business Network (NBBN), established in May 2013.

“Since its inception Nedbank has worked closely with the NBBN to further the mainstreaming of biodiversity into South African business. The NBBN-EWT is proud to be associated with Nedbank in light of their many green initiatives, especially their recent commitment to better manage the biodiversity impact of their lending decisions.

This latest decision demonstrates the potential that lies within corporate to positively influence the management of South African biodiversity,” it says. 

Source: Conservation Action Trust

 

Russia bans petting zoos, animal fights, and killing stray cats and dogs

RUSSIA BANS PETTING ZOOS, ANIMAL FIGHTS, AND KILLING STRAY CATS AND DOGS
Russia bans petting zoos, animal fights, and killing stray cats and dogs

Russia has passed new legislation in a bid to improve animal welfare across the nation.

The Moscow Times reports that the new law, called “On Responsible Treatment of Animals and on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation,” bans petting zoos in malls, animal cafes, animal fights, housing animals in bars and restaurants, and the killing of stray cats and dogs. The Kremlin states that the new law is guided by the “principles of humanity.” Originally introduced in 2010, it took legislators eight years to finalize the act.

The law also mandates that pet parents take good care of their companion animals. It also bans keeping exotic animals in homes and apartments. Wild animals such as camels and ostriches have been abandoned in the wild in recent years. Keeping wild animals “without a license” will result in the animal being seized by the state. RT notes that this will make it harder for “semi-legal” circuses to operate.

The killing of stray cats and dogs has become increasingly common in Russian cities over the past few years. The new law mandates that all stray animals are to be captured, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and released.

Russia has passed new legislation in a bid to improve animal welfare across the nation.  The Moscow Times reports that the new law, called “On Responsible Treatment of Animals and on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation,” bans petting zoos in malls, animal cafes, animal fights, housing animals in bars and restaurants, and the killing of stray cats and dogs. The Kremlin states that the new law is guided by the “principles of humanity.” Originally introduced in 2010, it took legislators eight years to finalize the act.  The law also mandates that pet parents take good care of their companion animals. It also bans keeping exotic animals in homes and apartments. Wild animals such as camels and ostriches have been abandoned in the wild in recent years. Keeping wild animals “without a license” will result in the animal being seized by the state. RT notes that this will make it harder for “semi-legal” circuses to operate.  The killing of stray cats and dogs has become increasingly common in Russian cities over the past few years. The new law mandates that all stray animals are to be captured, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and released.

Restrictions On ‘Dangerous’ Dog Breeds

Although the new law establishes a multitude of new protections for animals in Russia, it has been criticized for the inclusion of a law that requires pet parents to muzzle “potentially dangerous” dog breeds. The state will define this at a later date. It also establishes designated areas for dog-walking.

“After the New Year, people will go out on the street with their dogs and become outlaws,” Senator Andrei Klishas told Kommersant, adding that the law is “legal chaos.”

Others have criticized the new law for not going far enough. “This law covers only one percent of what we’d like to see,” Irina Novozhilova, head of the animal rights group Vita, told the RBC.

While the law grants protections to domestic and wild animals being kept by humans, the Kremlin notes that it does not apply to wildlife, fish farming, hunting, or the use of farm and lab animals.

SourceLive Kindly

Prematurely Prying Puppies from their Litters

Prematurely Prying Puppies from their Litters

Prematurely Prying Puppies from their Litters

Before deciding on introducing a bundle of fluffy joy to your human family, it’s crucial to ensure that the puppy has spent sufficient time with their biological mother and siblings so to avoid potential social, behavioural and even medical problems later in life.

But when exactly are puppies meant to be separated from their mother and litter? Find out more here…

The First Few Weeks of Life

During the first few weeks of a puppy’s life, they really aren’t much different from a human baby. They require the constant presence and attention of their mother because they completely rely on her for sustenance. Moreover, being a part of a litter is a form of socialisation for a young poochlet, where they learn how to ‘play’ with their siblings. A constant learning process takes place in the litter from the day a puppy first opens their eyes at the age of about two to three weeks, until they are separated from their litter, which should be no earlier than eight weeks of age.

The Eighth Week

By the time a little doggy reaches the eighth week of its existence, they have already undergone several developmental stages which help them acquire the skills they would need to survive and thrive as an adult dog.  The progressive sensory development gained from weeks three and four enables the pup to move around and process their surrounding environment. The pace of progress then accelerates from week four onwards due to the start of the socialisation phase where their mother teaches her litter basic manners, the concept of ‘pack leader’ and how to eat solid food when weaning occurs at about four weeks old. Weaning must be done gradually to ensure the physical and psychological health of both the mother and the pups.

As part of their socialisation development, by 8 weeks, puppies should have already been acquainted with their human equals. This introduction should be initiated from 3 to 12 weeks of age, so puppies grow familiar with their new owners. Special, individual attention must be given to each puppy daily thereby forming positive associations to interacting with people.

It is generally accepted that the brains of pups from 2.5 weeks through to 14 weeks of age are capable of welcoming new experiences with little fear and distress. This sensitive time period of what the poochlet experiences, (or doesn’t experience) shapes their character, behaviour and personality as an adult pooch.

Consequences of Early Separation

Before the puppy turns eight weeks old, it can be harmful to separate the baby from its mother for even more than 10 minutes at a time. Poochlets that are permanently separated from the litter at a young age can develop excessive behavioural problems such as anxiety, excessive barking and even aggression. From a medical perspective, such puppies are more inclined to have physical issues such as the inability to gain weight and an enhanced susceptibility to developing diseases due to an underdeveloped immune system. Psychologically, they may have increased tendencies to suffer from separation anxiety and their learning ability could ultimately be hampered. A puppy that is separated from their litter before eight weeks may also exhibit adjustment issues when brought into their new home.

When you do finally bring your puppy home and welcome them into your family, be sure to shower them with love, care and affection as from this day forward, you are their parent. Take every measure to make sure they adjust to their new home with ease and calmness, ensuring a stress-free transition into their new lives with you. They may initially cry for their mother, so be patient and compassionate, reassuring the pup that they have not been abandoned. Sleeping with your fur baby in a bed or crate next to you, playing with them and sincerely caring for and loving them, will not only boost their confidence, but will help strengthen their trust in you which ultimately translates into developing an unbreakable, lifelong bond between the two of you – and that is something precious that money cannot buy!

FYI – For Your Infurmation

Separating puppies from their mothers and litters before they are ready is a bold reminder of:

  1. the potentially destructive effects of lodging puppies in pet shops and other inappropriate housing environments
  2. the significance of suitable and time sensitive socialisation of puppies
  3. the critical need for behavioural intervention when a puppy has been prematurely separated from their mothers and litters and have spent time in a pet shop or other inappropriate housing environments

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

‘Designer’ dog and cat breeding to be outlawed this year in Scotland

‘Designer’ dog and cat breeding to be outlawed this year in Scotland

Scottish Fold Cats are just one of the breeds which could be affected (Image Credit: Getty)

Breeding designer pets could effectively be outlawed in Scotland this year, as new, tighter licensing regulations are set to come into force. The Scottish Government plans to tighten the licensing of dog, cat, and rabbit breeding in the country, to crack down on keeping animals in poor conditions before selling them on.

It comes after a consultation between stakeholders last September to November, with the Minister for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, saying responses will be published at the end of the month with the “hope to introduce legislation later this year.”

Higher demand for pets with certain physical features

Part of the new approach would involve stopping harmful breeding practices where pets are more likely to suffer from certain genetic conditions, which often lead to health problems in later life.

In recent years, there has been a growth in demand for pets with particular physical features such as short noses, protruding eyes and long ears.

‘Designer’ dog and cat breeding to be outlawed this year in Scotland

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Photo: Getty Image)

This has incentivised breeding for extreme characteristics in some cases, but it heightens the risk of harmful genetic conditions and can seriously affect the future health and wellbeing of the animal.

It can also place unexpected financial strain on the owner as many of those pets will need on-going and costly veterinary care.

Animals which could be affected by the move include the Scottish fold cat, which has a genetic defect preventing it from forming cartilage, the absence of which causes long term arthritis, as well as the munchkin cat which has disproportionately short legs and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which can be bred to have an unnaturally small skull that compresses the brain.

French and English Bulldogs and pugs could also be affected, as they have significant breathing problems caused by narrow, constricted airways, pinched nostrils and shortened, squat necks, exacerbated by obesity which is common in all breeds.

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “The Scottish SPCA believes that all animals should be bred to enjoy a normal life and be able to freely express normal behaviours, which includes being free from pain.”

While giving evidence to the the Public Petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament in May last year, Mark Rafferty, chief inspector in the special investigations unit of the SSPCA, referred to an: “…unquenchable appetite among the public for some particular breeds of dog, that are defined as either new breeds or designer breeds.”

Source: i News