In 2012, Satara-based researcher Siddharth Kulkarni spotted a spider in the Western Ghats that he thought to be a known species, Meotipa picturata. Three years of research in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa, however, showed that the spiny comb-footed spider belonged to a new species of the same genus. He named it Meotipa sahyadri, after the Sanskrit name for the Western Ghats (Sahyadri).
The female Meotipa sahyadri has a translucent portion in the abdomen, with white and brown stripes, while the male is pale white without the translucent abdomen. The female is 4 times larger, around 5.5mm to the 1.25mm male. These spiders are active at night and hide under broad leaves in inconspicuous webs during the day. Meotipa have a unique resting position: sideways and underleaf.
Kulkarni and teammates documented the species in a recent paper in Zootaxa. Studying for his Master’s degree at Satara’s Y C Institute of Science at the time he was conducting the research, Kulkarni is now a doctoral student at George Washington University, working on evolution of spiders. Others in the team were Atul Vartak, a dentist interested spiders and spider photography; Vishwas Deshpande, a zoologist at Y C Institute; and Dheeraj Halali, a student at Goa’s Parvatibai Chowgule College.
Kulkarni stresses the importance of such collaboration between researchers and enthusiasts. “Given the known spider diversity of more than 46,000 species and 1,70,000 estimated to be discovered, we need to collaborate with people to achieve this goal,” he said. “There are lots of new species around, waiting to be discovered.”
Since Kulkarni and Deshpande began field research on spiders in 2010, the two have discovered three new species, reported species known from other countries, and re-identified some poorly known species. Vartak and Halali joined the team in 2015 and explored spiders in Boisar and South Goa respectively.
They observed Meotipa sahyadri in its habitat and its morphology in the lab. They compared sahyadri with other Meotipa species for similarities and differences in reproductive organs, an identifier of spider species.
“Given the small size of these spiders, particularly males, we conducted scanning electron microscopy to reveal the structures of the reproductive organs,” Kulkarni said. “We conducted a phylogenetic test to investigate the evolutionary relationship of this new species to that of other comb-footed spider members of the family Theridiidae. It was found that the Meotipa picturata is a sister species of Meotipa sahyadri. Meotipa picturata was previously known in Kodei Kanal, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia. We discovered Meotipa picturata in Goa, which was not previously known.” The new spider species lays egg cases after the monsoon. The sex ratio of the species is biased towards females.