Stormtropis: New Genus of Bald-Legged Spiders Named after Star Wars’ Stormtroopers

An international team of researchers has described six new species of bald-legged spiders from Colombia and established a new genus for four of them, Stormtropis.

Stormtropis muisca, male. Image credit: Perafán et al, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.830.31433.

Stormtropis muisca, male. Image credit: Perafán et al, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.830.31433.

Bald-legged spiders are members of Paratropididae, a family of only 11 very similarly looking, small- to medium-sized species, whose placement in the Tree of Life has long been a matter of debate.

One of the most striking qualities of these creatures is their ability to adhere soil particles to their cuticle, which allows them to be camouflaged by the environment.

The six new species of bald-legged spiders were discovered by Dr. William Galvis of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Dr. Carlos Perafan and Dr. Fernando Perez-Miles from the Universidad de la Republica.

“Four of the novel spiders — Stormtropis colima, S. muisca, S. paisa and S. parvum — were unable to fit into any already existing genus, so we had to create a brand new one for them, which we called Stormtropis in reference to the Star Wars’ clone trooper army known as stormtroopers,” the scientists explained.

“The stormtroopers are the soldiers of the main ground force of the Galactic Empire. These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage but with unskillful movements, like this group of spiders.”

“We wanted to make a play on words with the name of the known genus, Paratropis, and of course, we also wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest sagas of all time.”

The new genus is distributed in the central and eastern Cordilleras of Colombia, on the montane forests of the Magdalena Valley and Cauca Valley, between 4,518 and 11,204 feet (1,377-3,415 m) altitudes.

The altitudinal record of one of the species, Stormtropis muisca, represents the highest of the family Paratropididae.

“In the course of our fieldwork, we also confirmed previous assumptions that the bald-legged spiders are well adapted to running across the ground’s surface,” the researchers said.

“The spiders were seen to stick soil particles to their scaly backs as a means of camouflage against predators.”

“More interestingly, however, we recorded several cases of various bald-legged species burrowing into ravine walls or soil — a type of behavior that had not been reported until then. It might be a secondary adaptation, so that the spiders could exploit additional habitats.”

The discovery is reported in the journal ZooKeys.

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C. Perafán et al. 2019. The first Paratropididae (Araneae, Mygalomorphae) from Colombia: new genus, species and records. ZooKeys 830: 1-31; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.830.31433

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