An ancient species of spider found only on Kangaroo Island is feared extinct after bushfires tore across the region last week.
The species of assassin spider — Zephyrarchaea austini — also called the pelican spider, is only known to occur in the Western River Wilderness Protection Area on Kangaroo Island.
The entire region where the spider is found was burnt in the blaze, which razed more than 200,000 hectares of bush and farmland, according to Mike Rix from the Queensland Museum, who first described the spider.
“It’s only known from the…north-west of the island,” Dr Rix said.
“As far as we know that area was significantly impacted. We’re very concerned that they may have been gravely impacted if not wiped out.”
Unlike some spiders that are able to burrow, or when young, to “balloon” through the air to escape fires, assassin spiders, which measure only 2 millimetres tall, live in the leaf litter on the forest floor.
“They’re really only found in rainforests and wet complex habitats,” Dr Rix said.
“As far as we know, the only way they can deal with fire is if there are untouched patches of habitat. Our biggest concern with the Kangaroo Island fire is that it was so destructive and so hot.
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Assassin spiders are part of an ancient lineage, and were known from fossils dating back to the Jurassic period more than 140 million years ago.
Other assassin spider species are found in Madagascar and South Africa, and were once widely distributed across the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana.
While bigger mammals like koalas and kangaroos have been the focus of concern during the bushfires, it’s the wiping out of smaller animals that will have the biggest ecological impact, according to Dr Rix.