Documented, rumoured, or unknown?

There are many species on Earth that scientists have yet to formally recognize and name. Many of these have never been seen or collected, hidden in tropical rainforests, or deep in the sea, or in your back yard. Some, however, have been seen and collected, but not yet formally described. Of these last — the ones that scientists have had contact with — the ones I find the most fascinating are the puzzling ones known among scientists as exciting rumours. One biologist will write another saying, “this museum has a strange specimen from southern Arizona that looks like a Bellota but its palp is wrong!”. Knowledge of this species spreads informally. Everyone is interested, but for one reason or another, it remains undescribed and without detailed study. antlikeSalticidDSC_0653
Photo copyright 2014 Heather Proctor

One such species is an ant-like jumping spider known from about three specimens from southern Arizona, caught long ago. It’s been years since I’ve looked at any of the specimens, and when I last did, we didn’t know what genus they belonged to, or even what subfamily. Well, what a surprise, but it looks like we found two males in the Estero el Salado reserve in Puerto Vallarta! Heather found the first one on mangrove. Now that I have fresh specimens and have looked at them more closely, I can see that they aren’t as strange as I had thought. They appear to be related to some other ant-like jumping spiders such as Synageles and Peckhamia. Indeed, I showed photos to Gustavo Ruiz, who thinks they might simply be fancy Synageles. I think he’s right. Even still, they are unusual, and it’s exciting to get fresh specimens, which will help us figure out exactly where they fit in the jumping spider evolutionary tree.

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