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Small Australian Spider Possibly World's Fastest Lunging Predator

  • Phil Mercer

A specimen of the newly-discovered Australian Peacock Spider, Maratus Lobatus, shows off his colourful abdomen in this undated picture from Australia.

A specimen of the newly-discovered Australian Peacock Spider, Maratus Lobatus, shows off his colourful abdomen in this undated picture from Australia.

Australia is famous for its rich variety of wildlife, and now scientists say it could also be home to the world's fastest-lunging predator. Karaops are a type of small, flat spider found only in Australia and researchers believe they could be the fastest terrestrial ambush predator.

The small karaop spider is native to Australia and is usually found under loose bark, especially on eucalyptus trees. It has a flat body allowing it to hide in tight spaces but it is the invertebrate's ability to move with lightning speed that is fascinating researchers.

About 100 samples have been collected by Sarah Crews, a visiting expert from the United States. The specimens gathered in the Australian Outback will be taken back to the U.S., where their lunging at prey will be filmed with high-definition cameras. The aim is to unlock the mechanical secret that gives the karaop the ability to strike at prey in the blink of an eye. Most spiders are thought to move with hydraulic pressure, but studies in Europe have suggested there is a muscular component, too.

The Queensland Museum has the most active arachnological unit in Australia. Since 1976, it has described over 1000 new species of spiders.

Dr. Robert Raven, the senior curator of spiders, says karaops have become skilled hunters.

"I have seen these guys hunting and they sit at the crack, but in order to catch their prey they have to do a ninety degree turn to get out and this must mean that they are incredibly fast in the process and they cannot delay. They have obviously evolved very good at this process of ripping their way out of these cracks, or maybe just ambushing straight out at them," said Raven.

It is estimated that Australia is home to about 10,000 species of spiders, although only a third have been identified and catalogued by researchers.

Although some are among the most venomous in the world, including the Sydney funnel web and redback spiders, experts say the risk of a fatal bite is very small.

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