New spider found in giant sand dune in Israel

A new species of spider has been discovered in the dune of the Sands of Samar in the southern Arava region of Israel, scientists from from the department of biology at the University of Haifa-Oranim said this week.

With a leg span of up to 5.5 inches (14 centimeters), the new spider is the largest of its type in the Middle East, the scientists said.

Its habitat is endangered. "It could be that there are other unknown species [in the dune] that will become extinct before we can discover them," said Uri Shanas of the University of Haifa, who is heading research in the area.

"The discovery of this new spider illustrates our obligation to preserve the dune," Shanas said.

The Sands of Samar are the last remaining sand dune in Israeli territory in the southern Arava region, the university said. In the past, the sands stretched some three square miles (seven square kilometers), but due to the rezoning of areas for agriculture and sand quarries, the sands have been reduced to less than half that.

The spider is a member of the Cerbalus genus. Since it was found in the Arava, it was been given the name Cerbalus aravensis.

"Even though details are still lacking to enable a full analysis of its biology and of its population in the sands, the scientists know that this is a nocturnal spider, mostly active in the hottest months of the year, and that it constructs an underground den which is closed with a 'lifting door' made of sand particles that are glued together to camouflage the den," the university explained.

The Israel Land Administration intends to renew mining projects in the Sands of Samar in the near future, which will endanger the existence of the newly discovered spider, Shanas said.

It is possible that there are additional unknown animal species living in the sands, and therefore efforts should be made to preserve this unique region in the Arava, the researcher added.

"The new discovery shows how much we still have to investigate, and that there are likely to be many more species that are unknown to us. If we do not preserve the few habitats that remain for these species, they will become extinct before we can even discover them," Shanas said.