A new species of spiders found in South-Western Australia that was later named after Charles Darwin

Scientists from the Western Australian Museum have led a team of Australian researchers in naming 11 new species after the founder of the theory of natural selection, Charles Darwin.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin, the WA Museum has published a special edition of the Records of the Western Australian Museum which includes 16 newly named species from Australia, 11 of which are named darwini.

Co-editor and lead scientist of the volume Professor Mark Harvey said that no scientist had made a greater contribution to the study of evolutionary biology than Charles Darwin.

“We are deeply honoured to name 11 new species after Charles Darwin on this anniversary,” Professor Harvey said.

The new species include six spiders, a pseudoscorpion, a barnacle, a cyclopoid copepod, a leaf hopper, a lacebug and a parasite found in the intestines of the short-nosed bandicoot.

The darwini species were all discovered in Australia, with nine found in Western Australia.

Two of the newly described species, including the spiders Perissopmeros darwini and Tapetosa darwini are found in south-western Australia.

These species are particularly important as they were discovered in the same area where the young Charles Darwin visited when he came to Western Australia during the voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1836.

Darwin visited King George Sound for only eight days however, during that time he was extremely active collecting shells, barnacles, fish and insects, many of which were unknown to British scientists at the time.

His observations on the geology of the area also helped him to formulate the notion that the Earth was a lot older than many people of the time considered.

Professor Mark Harvey said that south-western Australia was a unique place to find new species as it is one of only 34 internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots, and the only one found in Australia.

“Charles Darwin and his team only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of species in Western Australia. Staff from the WA Museum are constantly discovering new species and it is a huge challenge to prepare the scientific descriptions which are needed to validate the scientific name,” he said.

Amongst the darwini species is a new barnacle which was found and named by acting chief executive officer of the Western Australian Museum Diana Jones and curator Andrew Hosie.

Calantica darwini is a stalked barnacle that is endemic to the tropical waters of WA and is distinguished from other species by the unique arrangement and shape of the capitular plates.

Ms Jones said she and Mr Hosie named the new species Calantica darwini in honour of Charles Darwin’s contribution to the study of barnacles and biological sciences.

“It is a little known fact that Charles Darwin’s only formal contribution to taxonomy was classifying barnacles.

“He spent eight years, from 1846 to 1854, studying barnacles and providing a thorough taxonomic study of barnacle morphology and systematics that still forms the basis of research today,” Ms Jones said.

Darwin’s research into barnacles established him as a respected taxonomist and assisted him to perfect his understanding of the scientific method. His research also played an important role in developing and testing his theory of natural selection.

The Western Australian Museum will open Darwin and Australia, afree travelling exhibition from the National Museum of Australia at its Perth and Albany sites on Tuesday November 24, 2009.

Copies of the special issue of the Records of the Western Australian Museum are available from Western Australian Museum shops located in Perth, Fremantle, Albany, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie.


New Darwin species

The barnacle Calantica darwini is described by Western Australian Museum Acting CEO Ms Diana Jones and Curator Mr Andrew Hosie. The barnacle occurs off the Pilbara coast attached to gorgonian corals, where like other barnacles, it is a filter-feeder, straining small food particles from sea water. This species has special significance because Charles Darwin was a specialist in barnacles and their classification.

The tiny copepod Australoeucyclops darwini occurs in groundwater ecosystems throughout southwestern Australia. The species is described by Dr Tomislav Karanovic from the University of Tasmania and Mr Danny Tang from the University of Western Australia. The copepod – a small crustacean – feeds on small food particles in freshwater.

The leafhopper Horouta darwini is endemic to Barrow Island, Western Australia and is named by Dr Murray Fletcher from the Orange Agricultural Institute, NSW. Leafhoppers are small jumping insects which feed on sap from plants.

The lacebug Radinacantha darwiniis described by Dr Melinda Moir of the University of Melbourne. It is known only from the Stirling Range National Park where it feeds on Gastrolobium plants. Dr Moir also describes a similar species Radinacantha dondiorum from New South Wales.

Dr Barbara York Main of the University of Western Australia and WAM researcher Dr Volker Framenau describe two new species of trapdoor spider from Western Australia, Swolnpes darwini and Swolnpes morganensis. These spiders are amongst the smallest trapdoor spiders recorded from Australia.

A new species of goblin spider, Ischnothyreus darwini is described from rainforest patches in the Northern Territory by University of Western Australian postgraduate student Karen Edward and WA Museum Senior Curator Dr Mark Harvey. These tiny spiders feed on ants and other invertebrates amongst rainforest leaf litter.

WA Museum scientists Dr Michael Rix and Dr Mark Harvey, along with Dale Roberts from the University of Western Australia describe two new spiders, Calcarsynotaxus benrobertsi and Perissopmeros darwini from the Stirling Range National Park. These spiders are very rare and have been found nowhere else.

The jumping spider Paraplatoides darwini is described by Ms Julianne Waldock of the Western Australian Museum. This unique species is found only in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

A highly unusual type of wolf spider, the ‘carpet spider’ Tapetosa darwini, is described by a team of scientists (Dr Volker Framenau, Dr Barbara York Main, Dr Mark Harvey and Ms Julianne Waldock) from the Western Australian Museum and the University of Western Australia. This flattened spider is found under granite rocks in the Western Australian wheatbelt.

The orbweaving spider Cyrtobill darwini is described by Dr Volker Framenau from the Western Australian Museum and Dr Nikolaj Scharff from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. This spider occurs over much of Australia, primarily in arid habitats where it spins an orb-web, often in spinifex, to catch its prey.

Two pseudoscorpions are described by Dr Mark Harvey of the Western Australian Museum, Paraliochthonius darwini from beaches in northern Australia and Paraliochthonius vachoni from New Caledonia. Pseudoscorpions are very small and superficially resemble scorpions, except that they lack a tail.

A new nematode found inside quolls and bandicoots is described by Dr Ian Beveridge from the University of Melbourne and Dr Marie-Claire Durette-Desset from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris.

Copemania darwini

is only known from south-western Australia.


Interviews with WA Museum researchers and images of the new species are available.

Media Contacts:
Renae Woodhams
Manager, Media and Communications
Western Australian Museum
T: 9212 3860
M: 0439 948 779