New Tarantula Species Named After Gabriel García Márquez

Scientist have discovered a new tarantula named Kankuamo marquezi in Colombia. Dirk Weinmann

Scientists have discovered an unusual new type of tarantula in the rain forests of Colombia. The creature is not only a new species but also a new genus (the taxonomic grouping above species) and is covered in unique hairs.

Its close spider relatives can deter predators by using their legs to launch the sharp barbs that cover their body. These bristles, called urticating hairs, can lodge in an attacker's maw and even cause fatal infections. Scientists have described several different types of hairs; the ones specialized for launching are long and thin, little arachnid arrows.

But the new species has an entirely new type of hair, which scientists think helps persuade predators to leave it alone. These barbs are the thickest of any yet known and would be sure to leave quite a mark on any attacking creature, says Carlos Perafán, a researcher with Uruguay's University of the Republic.

"Those barbed hairs would mean that if a cane toad seized [the tarantula], it would promptly spit it out," says Andrew Smith, a British tarantula researcher not involved in the study, which was published June 29 in the journal Zookeys.

The scientists have dubbed the creature Kankuamo marquezi, both names of which have a special meaning. The first, the genus, is named after the Kankuamo, an indigenous people who inhabit the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (where the creature was found) and whose language and culture are at endangered. The species name comes from author and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Marquez, who grew up nearby and is greatly admired by the study's authors.

A close-up of the barbs, or urticating hairs, that cover the body of the newfound tarantula Kankuamo marquezi. Carlos Perafán

The creature lives in burrows and comes out only at night, like many tarantulas. Its body is nearly 2 inches in length and is colored black and brown.

There are now about 1,000 known species of tarantula but many more to find. Perafán estimates there are probably another 1,000 or 2,000 unknown species awaiting discovery.

One study, from February, uncovered 14 new species of tarantulas in the southern United States alone.