You may not be aware of the Thai YouTube sensation that is JoCho Sippawatt, but millions watch his videos in which he grapples with armfuls of millipedes, holds venomous snakes, allows hairy spiders to walk across his face, with his videos largely coming from the Thailand’s biodiverse tropical forests.
But amid his spine-tingling encounters with rare animals, Mr Sippawatt has happened across a previously undocumented species of tarantula, which apparently only lives in bamboo – the only spider known to do so.
In the dense forests of Mae Tho, in the district of Mueang Tak, in north western Thailand, Mr Sippawatt found the spider living in a bamboo “culm” – a botanical term for the hollow stems the plant is known for.
He then collaborated with arachnologists Dr Narin Chomphuphuang from Khon Kaen University in northeast Thailand, and Chaowalit Songsangchot from Kasetsart University in Bangkok, who together studied and described the new genus.
The new tarantula has been named Taksinus in honor of the Thai king Taksin the Great.
The researchers said they chose the name in recognition of Taksin the Great’s old name, Phraya Tak – governor of Tak province, which is where the new genus was discovered.
One of the key differences between the new species and all other Asian tree-dwelling spiders is the relatively short embolus of the male pedipalps – the pair of feelers near the spider’s mouth – which in this species is used to transport sperm to the female seminal receptacles during mating.
Its habitat type and distribution are also markedly different from those of related species.
While Asian arboreal tarantulas have been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, and Borneo, this is the first such genus known from Northern Thailand, the researchers said.
Tarantulas from Southeast Asia can be either terrestrial or arboreal. Arboreal tarantulas spend time on different types of trees, but, to date, this is the first tarantula that is only found on a specific tree type.
“These animals are truly remarkable; they are the first known tarantulas ever with a bamboo-based ecology,” Dr Chomphuphuang said.
The tarantulas were discovered inside mature culms of Asian bamboo stalks.
Their nest entrances range in size from 2–3cm to a large fissure and feature a silk-lined tubular burrow, either in the branch stub or in the middle of the bamboo culms. All the tarantulas found living in the culms had built silken retreat tubes that covered the stem cavity.
“We examined all of the trees in the area where the species was discovered,” said Dr Chomphuphuang.
“This species is unique because it is associated with bamboo, and we have never observed this tarantula species in any other plant.
“Bamboo is important to this tarantula, not only in terms of lifestyle but also because it can only be found in high hill forests in the northern part of Thailand, at an elevation of about 1,000m.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that they are now Thailand’s rarest tarantulas,” he added.
These spiders cannot bore into bamboo stems themselves. Instead, they rely on the assistance of other animals such as the bamboo borer beetle, bamboo worm, bamboo-nesting carpenter bee, and some rodents.
In other cases, rapid changes in moisture content can cause bamboo to crack.
“Few people realize how much of Thailand’s wildlife remains undocumented,” said Dr Chomphuphuang.
“Thai forests now cover only 31.64 per cent of the country’s total land area. We are primarily on a mission to research and save the biodiversity and wildlife within these forests from extinction, especially species-specific microhabitats.”
The research is published in the journal ZooKeys.