Two of Washington’s strangest arachnids

I later sent the specimen to Dr. William Shear, an expert in the most closely related known group. Bill wrote back that the “weirdo from the waterfall” was “clearly a new genus.” Unfortunately, I found no more specimens, and one female wasn’t enough to name the genus or species or determine its relationships.

Fast forward ten years. On July 17, 1984 I retrieved pitfall traps I had set the day before in Ahlstroms Prairie, a unique habitat on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula. In one trap I found another solitary female of the weird spiky harvestman.

Unknown to me, during that same summer, naturalist Frank Merickel found several more walking at night along mountain stream banks in Idaho. Merickel’s collections finally included some males. Based on these, Bill Shear named the genus Acuclavella (“acute little spines” in Latin) in 1986. But there was still no way, without males from Washington, to tell if our species were different; and to this day, I’ve never found another one.

Twenty-four more years went by until graduate student Casey Richart finally zeroed in on a way to reliably find Acuclavella in their habitats. He found 41 populations in the first 55 localities checked!

Based on new material, and combining physical and molecular characters, he determined that both of the specimens I found represented separate new species. In June of 2013, the paper naming those species appeared in the journal Zookeys. They belong to a major group called Ischyropsalidoidea, with members scattered around North America and northern Eurasia, none of which look even remotely like Acuclavella!

The first species, Acuclavella leonardi, is now known from 5 stream-bank sites in the southwest Washington Cascades. It was named after Washington naturalist Bill Leonard, who “got [Casey] into turning over logs in the first place.”

Article Source: Burke Museum