Citizen scientists in Australia have discovered seven new species of spider after spotting unusual-looking creatures and submitting the information to experts via a conservation app.
The new species are yet to be formally named but include an “exclamation mark spider”, which features a white line along its back which is trailed by a dot, and a “fishing spider”, which hunts for prey by detecting ripples on the surface of water.
Dr Robert Whyte, a spider researcher at the Queensland Museum, partnered with the QuestaGame app, which encourages users to submit photographs of rare and unknown species as well as field notes.
Australia has about 4,000 identified spider species but, according to Dr Whyte, this could double if enough people searched their backyards and gardens.
"I’m pretty sure I could find a new species in somebody’s backyard if it was reasonably close to bush, within half an hour," he told ABC News.
QuestaGame, which was launched in Australia in 2014, held an “Arachnid Adventure” from December 8 to 24, resulting in 1,905 sightings around the world and 143 species.
Dr Whyte said a user north of Sydney collected four spiders that are believed to be samples of new species.
"They’re not uncommon but they’re completely undescribed and I don’t think that anyone had even collected any before this citizen science stuff sprang up, so that’s how important it is," he said.
"We need the human energy, we need the people power, and it is lucky that there are so many new things to find where people are."
Ben Revell, an experienced QuestaGame user who submitted numerous sightings, said spiders often inspired fear in people but “could sometimes even be cute”.
In a YouTube video, he suggested people try to find spiders by searching for webs or by venturing out after sunset with a torch to look for “twinkling lights shining back”, which are the creature’s eyes.
“One of the best things about spiders is that they are not very hard to find,” he said.
Dr Whyte said some of the new species may be named after their discoverers.
"When we tell people that we know it’s a new species but doesn’t have a name yet, they get a real buzz out of that," he said.
"I think this kind of game inspires a love of naming things, or at least finding out what their names are."
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