Whip spiders, also known as tailless scorpions or amblypygids, are a weird member of the arachnid family. They are mostly harmless to humans, with no fangs or tail or even silk production glands (although they do have some mantis-like pedipalp appendages for grabbing prey). These butt-less wonders have typically received much less attention than their more popular family members, for a variety of reasons (including the fact that people just … didn't notice them). But that's all starting to change, as recently detailed in Undark Magazine:
Amblypygids were popping up elsewhere, too. In 2018, an undergraduate in suburban Athens found a few scuttling through his bathroom and kitchen — now he's credited with uncovering the species' presence in continental Europe. In 2019, there was the first confirmed record of amblypygids in Jordan, also in a bathroom. In both cases, the person who helped identify the critters was Brazilian arachnologist Gustavo de Miranda. And he's just outdone himself: Last year he submitted a paper, the publication of which is forthcoming, describing 33 new amblypygid species, one of which has only ever been seen in the pipes and storage sheds of a Rio de Janeiro museum.
Such findings are more often pictured in treacherous caves and tangles of jungle, or oozing unseen in the darkest patches of ocean. The great whip spider boom shows that's only part of the story. On the one hand, scientists find it heartening: the planet seething with so much undiscovered life that it's lurking not only in the backcountry but in basements and bathrooms. But the fact that these species haven't yet been described has more to do with scientific fashion than with the creatures themselves. Though it might seem abstract, what does or does not get attention in the pages of, say, the Journal of Arachnology, can affect the natural world.
Have whip spiders been spreading, traveling around the world and growing their packs? If that's the case, why didn't anyone notice? It's wild to think that there can be so many arachnids hanging around that no one ever noticed or studied. But it looks we're about to start learning more.
Making Sense of the Great Whip Spider Boom [Eric Boodman / Undark]
Image: Greg Hume / Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)