Goan weaves a web of success with her spider discovery

Vibhuti Gawas was filled with excitement after she stumbled upon a previously unknown type of spider in Goa that has been officially named as 'Afraflacilla goaensis' after the State
FASCINATING DISCOVERY: The first-ever jumping spider species has been found in Goa.
FASCINATING DISCOVERY: The first-ever jumping spider species has been found in Goa.

It is often said that curiosity can have negative consequences, as represented by the phrase: Curiosity killed the cat. On the other hand, there are instances when curiosity can favourably change an outcome of an intended goal and work for the better.

During our early years, walking in the garden and finding a small earthworm, tightly coiled up, filled us with great happiness, as if we had stumbled upon something truly special or a unique discovery.

FASCINATING DISCOVERY: The first-ever jumping spider species has been found in Goa.
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Over time, as we become entangled in our responsibilities, it appears that we are slowly losing the capacity to cherish small adventures like the one described.

There’s so much to observe in our surroundings, and, who knows, if we took the time, we might just be inspired and stumble upon something previously unknown. Like the jumping spider that Vibhuti Gawas, a post-graduate in Zoology from Goa University, discovered.

After being tasked with choosing four categories of living organisms (taxa), she opted to focus her research on birds, butterflies, spiders, and ants.

“While working with spiders, I realised there wasn’t much research conducted at the species level,” explains Vibhuti, adding that this being an under-studied area, it propelled her to focus on the spider diversity for her dissertation.

She began her field work, examining spiders in different habitats of Goa. And, just like it was meant to be, one such exploration led her to the jumping spiders.

WHAT'S INSIDE: Vibhuti Gawas' fascinating research on spider diversity led her to the mangroves of Chorao.
WHAT'S INSIDE: Vibhuti Gawas' fascinating research on spider diversity led her to the mangroves of Chorao. Photo: Rohan Fernandes

Vibhuti recounts an experience during a visit to a research site in the Chorao mangroves, where she came across a previously unfamiliar spider resting on a branch. This marked the beginning of the spider identification journey.

The Afraflacilla spiders (Salticidae family) are known to have their first pair of legs notably more enlarged than those of other spiders.

Another unique characteristic of these spiders is the presence of a stridulatory apparatus, a specialised structure that allows them to produce sounds by rubbing body parts together, the sounds likely playing a role in communication or courtship.

“Initially, based on the spider’s appearance, we determined that it belonged to the Salticidae family. I delved into research papers and the World Spider catalogue to find further clues,” says Vibhuti, who was guided by Assistant Professor Goa University, Dr Nitin Sawant, who was able to connect her with arachnologists outside Goa.

FASCINATING DISCOVERY: The first-ever jumping spider species has been found in Goa.
Take a wild guess at what dwells in the mangroves of Chorao island in Goa

“Eventually, we identified it as an Afraflacilla genus, and to confirm our findings, we reached out to Dr John Caleb, a specialist in Salticidae spiders, who confirmed it,” says Vibhuti.

This species has been discovered for the first time in Goa and named after the state, Afraflacilla goaensis.

This species has been discovered for the first time in Goa and named after the state, Afraflacilla goaensis.

The Afraflacilla genus includes 48 different species worldwide. It was in 2021 that the Afraflacilla banni species was first discovered in India. Subsequently, other Afraflacilla species were found in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Speaking about the methodology undertaken in the study, Vibhuti shares that the Afraflacilla species was identified based on its pedipalp (male reproductive organs), specifically the insemination ducts and embolus.

She further says, “The morphometrics were done by Rishikesh Tripathi from Christ College, Kerala. All the measurements were done using LAS Software with a Stereozoom microscope.”

FASCINATING DISCOVERY: The first-ever jumping spider species has been found in Goa.
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Today, the Afraflacilla goaensis spider species has been documented in the Journal of Insect Biodiversity and Systematics by Gawas V U, Tripathi R, Sudhikumar A V, and Sawant N S. The publication titled ‘A New Species of Afraflacilla Berland & Millot, 1941 (Araneae, Salticidae) from India’.

Additionally, the species has also been mapped based on its occurrence in various states of India.

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