July 2020 Spider of the Month

The spider of the month is this undescribed theridiid, taken by Andrew Baxter in Cape Town. I’m sure most of you who voted for his photo wouldn’t mind if I rather use one of his more recent photos of the same spider, taken after the poll was created. After all, I’m sure you voted for the spider, not the photo.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it a strawberry theridiid, or a strawberry button (even though it’s not in the same genus as the button/widow spiders), or call it what you want. According to Prof. Haddad, there are at least five species of these undescribed theridiids in South Africa, and he suspects it is Ruborridion sp., but Prof. Dippenaar-Schoeman thinks it’s something else, possibly a new genus. Even though we’ve seen a few of these spiders posted on the spider groups, they have been left undescribed for many years now, and for this reason, there’s not much I can add about them. Andrew, however, had quite a lot to add. This is what he had to say:

“The first specimen was photographed and released – we assumed it was a common spider. After the initial feedback from the forum, Jen and I went back to the same location in the hope of collecting a live specimen. After many hours of bushwhacking, log-lifting, rock-turning and stick-poking we eventually collected two individuals – a male and female. All subsequent searches have come up blank. All 3 spiders were located on the ‘back table’ region of Table Mountain between 500-800 m altitude on west-facing slopes among moist fynbos in the middle of the day – sunny but cold. They were all active. No evidence of webs – just scurrying around. They are small spiders – body size approximately 1 cm – so seeing them among the dense fynbos is tricky. But Jen is an arachnophobe and has an incredible ability to see webs and spiders from near-miraculous distances!

I have received incredible support and feedback from the spider community and the past week has been nothing short of a whirlwind of communication from experts around the world. I am blessed to have received tremendous support from Norman Larsen, Dr Ian Engelbrecht, Dr Morne du Plessis, Prof. Gustavo Hormiga and many others.

The objective is to seek a description from a Theridiidae (seems likely) expert with a view to determining the taxonomy. Should this spider be an undescribed species then ultimately we would hope for a classification – but as you well know this can be a complex process.

Anyway, I would like the community to know that if it does turn out to be a new species, that our wish is to ‘donate’ the naming/nomenclature to a species-naming auction to be facilitated by WWF South Africa, with all the proceeds to accrue to WWF for natural habitat protection. (As an aside, I used to head up fundraising for WWF and a few years ago I auctioned off the naming rights for a new fynbos flower at the Linnaeus Institute in London which enabled WWF to purchase a significant piece of private property – now incorporated into the conservation real-estate of Table Mountain National Park.) Hopefully these little red chaps can bring the same conservation outcome.”

Thank you for all the info, Andrew, and thanks for the stunning photos! This was an especially difficult poll, so to come out on top of eight other brilliant contenders, you’d have to have something special.