New Species of Venomous Spider Discovered in Florida Looks Like Pitch-Black Tarantula

In news that will no doubt send a shiver up arachnophobes' spines, Georgia biologist Rebecca Godwin has conclusively identified the Pine Rockland trapdoor spider as a new species.

The spider resembles "a small tarantula without the hair," Frank Ridgley, Zoo Miami's conservation and veterinary services manager, told Newsweek, adding that its "body is shiny black, almost metallic looking."

But the similarities don't end there. Like tarantulas, Pine Rockland trapdoor spiders are venomous, though their venom is not nearly potent enough to pose a danger to humans. Its primary purpose is to make the contents of prey insects easier to consume, Ridgley said. He compared the pain of a bite to that of a bee sting.

An endangered Pine Rockland trapdoor spider
The spider that started it all, resting in brush in Florida's pine rocklands. Zoo Miami

"Even though they appear menacing, they are very shy and are reluctant to bite. Someone would have to roughly handle one to make it feel defensive to elicit a bite," Ridgley said.

The first Pine Rockland trapdoor spider was discovered in a reptile trap planted in the forest surrounding Zoo Miami in 2012; the second was discovered in the same manner more than two years later.

Unable to make a positive ID, zoo staff eventually consulted experts. From the outset, Godwin had "no doubt that [the spider] was a new species."

"I already had a suspicion that there was an undescribed species in that area of Florida, and had simply lacked the specimens to properly describe it," she told Newsweek.

On April 2, nearly a decade after the first known sighting, Godwin and her colleague Jason Bond described the spider in a paper published in the zoology journal ZooKeys.

While males are about "an inch across" and can reach the age of seven or so, Godwin believes that females are significantly larger and longer-lived, though she has yet to collect a female specimen to confirm her hypothesis.

The spiders are endemic to the pine rocklands—critically endangered patches of pine forest—that border Zoo Miami. However, they are likely "threatened" as a result of habitat loss, Godwin said.

A male Pine Rockland trapdoor spider
A male Pine Rockland trapdoor spider stares into the camera, glossy black carapace on display. Zoo Miami

"This goes for many such species of trapdoor spider. Since they aren't able to disperse very far (and in the case of females don't disperse at all as adults) and their ranges can be relatively small, they are very vulnerable to things like urban development and other human activity—entire populations can be wiped out by a parking lot or golf course, for example," she said.

Trapdoor spiders are so named because of their hunting technique. Timid by nature, the spiders dig burrows in the earth that feature a hinged "door" that conceals them from view. When insects pass too close to the door, the spiders pounce and feast.