It’s Blue! Say Hello to the Newest Member of the Tarantula Species!

It’s Blue! Say Hello to the Newest Member of the Tarantula Species!
Chilobrachys natanicharum. Image by Yuranan Nanthaisong

Amidst the lush greenery that envelops the jungle, nature seems to have an affinity for other colors as well.

Recently, a new study revealed the discovery of a stunning electric blue tarantula species in Thailand. Details of the discovery were published on September 18 in the research journal ZooKeys.

Researchers from Thailand discovered the astonishing spider during an expedition in Phang-Nga province in southern Thailand. They were conducting research to understand the diversity and distribution of tarantulas in the region.

Interestingly, blue is one of the very rare colors found in nature, which is why the color found on Chilobrachys natanicharum caught the attention of scientists.

This spider was named by auctioning off the naming rights to a new species. This was done as part of their efforts to publicize the discovery. "Chilobrachys natanicharum" is named after the two company executives who won the naming campaign.

Image by Yuranan Nanthaisong

The blue-purple hues of this tarantula are strikingly similar to the light emitted by an electric spark. The spider, which has a body length of nearly three inches, displays a striking combination of colors along its legs, back, and jaws.

The spider was originally known to pet lovers as the "electric blue tarantula," but recent research published in the journal Zookeys has finally confirmed its status as a truly unique species.

According to Sarah J. Kariko, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, of the 900 tarantula species identified, only about four percent have a blue coloration. This shows that while science has learned a lot about tarantulas, the explanation for the blue color phenomenon in tarantulas is still a mystery.

It may not be widely known, but the process of blue color formation in animals is different from that of other colors, such as red or yellow. The electric blue coloration of tarantulas comes not from blue pigments, but from unique biological nanophotonic structures in their hairs that manipulate light to produce this striking blue appearance. When light hits them, the nanostructures in the tarantula's cells reflect the blue color back.

Ling Li, a professor at Virginia Tech who has worked on spider color research, describes that the phenomenon of structural color often results in different colors, similar to the effect seen in peacock feathers. In this case, the blue of the tarantula appears to change slightly depending on the viewing angle, as opposed to the color produced by the pigment, which remains unchanged as the viewing angle changes. 

Image by Narin Chomphuphuang

What Makes It Stand Out?

Prior to this discovery, electric blue tarantulas were only known from the commercial pet market, and this species of tarantula is considered extremely rare in the world. However, there is no detailed information on its characteristics and natural habitat. 

In general, tarantulas are usually found on land or in water. However, in the case of Chilobrachys natanicharum, researchers note that this species has the unique ability to adapt to both environments.

Electric blue tarantulas show a very special level of adaptation. They can live in tree holes as well as on the ground in evergreen forests. However, when they are in mangrove forest habitats, their natural environment is limited to living in tree burrows due to significant tidal influences.

Researchers on an expedition to the mangroves of Phang-Nga Province searched at night in a damp and muddy environment to identify the presence of this tarantula, observing distinctive markings such as the shroud-like webs that protect its habitat.

According to Dr. Narin Chomphuphuang, a senior scientist at Khon Kaen University in Thailand, the decline of mangrove forests, largely due to logging, has made the electric blue tarantula one of the rarest tarantulas in the world.

As the electric blue tarantula's natural environment continues to be threatened by deforestation, researchers emphasize the urgency of preservation and conservation projects. These efforts are essential to prevent further declines in the tarantula's population and to protect future generations.

Source: CNN | National Geographic

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