There’s an oddly-shaped dirt ball on the ground near your picnic table. You look away, When you look back, it strangely appears closer. Should you quit drinking beer or move to another table? If you’re in Veracruz, Mexico, and you’re afraid of spiders, you may want to jump up on top of the table because what you’re looking at is an arachnid that makes itself invisible with a covering of dirt and dust.
The discovery of the Paratropis tuxtlesis was announced recently in the medical journal ZooKeys by researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. It was found in the Los Tuxtlas, in the south-eastern state of Veracruz. Also known as the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, this is a protected area on the northern part of the tropical rainforest of the Americas. Immature spiders were first discovered in 2010 and 4-inch-long adults in 2011. Obviously they’ve been there for quite a while before this. The report explains what kept Paratropis tuxtlesis hidden for so long.
It is distinguished from other species because it has rough skin, like scales, that are used by the animal to attract floor particles which in turn give it perfect camouflage.
In addition to its rough skin, the Paratropis tuxtlensis excretes a sticky substance from glandular pores in its exoskeleton to attract dirt particles and help them bond to the spider. Together, they make it blend into the ground area, effectively hiding it from predators and prey.
If you’ve ever spent a day at the beach rolling in the sand, you know how irritating it is when it gets in your eyes. The Paratropis tuxtlensis has evolved an interesting way to avoid this problem, according to the report:
In order to make sure its vision is not obstructed by its camouflage of dirt, the spider has eyes that are raised up higher than usual so that it can see over the covering.
While nine species of the family Paratropididae can be found in Central and South America, this is the first found in North America. If you’re worried about seeing or not seeing a Paratropis tuxtlensis, avoid Los Tuxtlas and Veracruz.
Then again, you might want to check that dirt ball next to your foot.