When wildlife enthusiast and YouTube star JoCho Sippawat came across an unusual spider near his home in northwestern Thailand, he knew that he'd found something special. He promptly emailed a photo of the spider to arachnologist Narin Chomphuphuang of Khon Kaen University, who helped confirm what Sippawat hoped: it was new species of tarantula.
Sippawat, whose nature-themed channel on YouTube has 2.5 million followers, first encountered the fuzzy black-and-white spider on a trip into the forest near his home in Thailand’s Tak province. After scientists collected specimens and conducted field surveys in the region in July 2020, the spider was officially declared new to science.
Sippawat and the scientists he collaborated with were surprised to find that the tarantula nests inside of bamboo stalks. The behavior has never been documented before in tarantulas, a family that includes more than 1,000 different species.
The new spider, named Taksinus bambus, is so distinct from all other known tarantulas that it has been declared a new genus and species. The team named the new tarantula after Thai king Taksin the Great, who governed Tak province in the 18th century, according to George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. The details of the recent discovery are published in the journal ZooKeys.
“These animals are truly remarkable,” writes Chomphuphuang, who co-authored the study, in a blog post. “They are the first known tarantulas ever with a bamboo-based ecology.”
Most tarantulas in Southeast Asia dwell on the ground or in trees, but this is the first tarantula to live exclusively on just one specific plant, per CNN’s Katie Hunt. Sippawat first found the spider in Asian bamboo stalks, inside their silk-lined havens. The arachnids create tube-shaped silk burrows located either in branch stubs or in hollow bamboo culms. The newly recognized spider is the sole tree-dwelling tarantula known to live in Thailand, the study authors note.
“This species is unique because it is associated with bamboo, and we have never observed this tarantula species in any other plant,” Chomphuphuang writes. “It is not an exaggeration to say that they are now Thailand’s rarest tarantulas.”
The scientists behind the work explain that though the new tarantula species thrives inside bamboo, it can’t drill or break into the stalks alone. Instead, Taksinus bambus depends on other animals—like including the bamboo borer beetle; the bamboo worm; and the bamboo-nesting carpenter bee—to make an entrance into the plant, Matthew Hart reports for Nerdist.
The discovery of a new tarantula underscores the importance of protecting Thailand’s biodiversity, much of which is still undocumented.
"We're primarily on a mission to study and save the biodiversity and wildlife found in these forests, particularly species-specific microhabitats, from extinction," Chomphuphuang says. "The first step is to inform people about this species and their locality. Then this forest area must be managed and protected for wildlife."