New tarantula species discovered on Northern Territory Bush Blitz

At least seven new species of spider have been discovered in the NT this week, including a genus of tarantulas that is completely new to science.
It’s all part of Bush Blitz - a pioneering nature-discovery partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia – which descended on Judburra/Gregory National Park this week.


Sixteen scientists worked alongside Indigenous rangers and volunteer field-assistants from BHP Billiton, digging up spider holes, tickling eels and cataloguing the national park’s spectacular birdlife. The scientists came from all over the country, and included locals from the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT (MAGNT) and the NT Department of Land Resource Management (DLRM). They have been working hand-in-hand with Parks and Wildlife Commission NT and traditional owners, who jointly manage the national park.
Earthwatch Chief Executive Officer Professor David McInnes said five of the new spider species were discovered in just one day, including the new tarantula.
“The spider team were stooped low, searching for spider holes, when they spotted a promising burrow,” Prof McInnes said.
“Sophie Harrison, a PhD student from the University of Adelaide, put the BHP Billiton volunteers to work digging out the hole, and they struck gold – a tarantula so new and different that it doesn’t fit into any of the existing families of spider species. The new tarantula looks just as you’d expect – brown, hairy and pretty ugly...although the scientists tell me it’s beautiful!
“It was really exciting for the BHP Billiton employees to help find such an important new species...even if some of them were less than eager to hold it! This program is a great example of citizen science, where BHP Billiton employees assist world-class scientists to conduct their research in the field. These expeditions are life-changing experiences that shape the volunteers’ views on science and biodiversity.”
Other discoveries included a new species of saddle-kneed trapdoor spider, named for the brownish red markings on its knees, and an existing species of eel that’s never been found in this river catchment before. The team also discovered a flock of Gouldian finches, which are nationally endangered and hadn’t been seen in this part of the park before.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Bob Baldwin MP, said Bush Blitz is a triumph of evidence-based conservation.
“In the last five years, Bush Blitz has discovered more than 900 new species, located another 250 threatened species, and recorded 12,000 types of plants and animals in areas where they were previously unknown,” Mr Baldwin said.
“By filling gaps in our biodiversity knowledge, Bush Blitz is helping to underpin our conservation efforts for a generation to come.”
Judburra/ Gregory National Park protects 1.3 million hectares of rugged landscape at the boundary of Australia’s tropical north and the Red Centre. This vast area is home to 15 nationally or territory-listed threatened species, including the purple-crowned fairy-wren and the critically endangered Fitzroy land snail, which are not found anywhere else on earth.
The results from the expedition will be shared with the traditional owners and the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, who jointly manage Judbarra/Gregory National Park.
The expedition has built on the Indigenous rangers’ detailed knowledge of the area, with traditional owners guiding the researchers to some of the most exciting finds.
Michelle Cullen from the Northern Land Council said the traditional owners’ detailed knowledge of the area has contributed to choosing the sampling sites for the Bush Blitz project. The NLC Indigenous Rangers were excited to accompany scientists and Parks and Wildlife rangers to remote sampling sites on their country to aid in the discovery of new species.
“The park is under a joint management arrangement where traditional owners and the Parks and Wildlife Commission work together as equal partners in the overall management of the park. The partners share knowledge both ways so the cultural landscape is looked after alongside the important conservation values. The participation of traditional owners in this Bush Blitz project has been an excellent opportunity for them to share information and learn about the science of discovering new species,” Ms Cullen said.
Australia is home to more unique plants and animals than any other country on Earth, however only one quarter of this biodiversity is currently known to science. Most of these unknown species are invertebrates such as spiders and other insects, which vastly outnumber the birds, mammals and reptiles we’re familiar with.