3 New Spiders Have Just Been Discovered in the Smoky Mountains

a nesticus spider and the smoky mountains

New spiders have been discovered in the Smoky Mountains (photos by Sean Pavone/shutterstock.com and Creative Commons)

Calling all arachnophobes – 3 new species of spiders have been found in the Great Smoky Mountains

Last year, a pair of scientists announced they’d identified 10 new species of spiders, three of them residing in the Smokies. Some are surprised when they announce a new species in the park. However, as someone who has lived around the mountains for three decades, I’m never shocked when they find a new species. In fact, I’m willing to bet there are more out there. 

In February of 2023, scientists Marshal Hedin and Marc Milne announced three new species of spiders identified in the Smokies. They named one of the species after famed Appalachian Author Wilma Dykeman, another after a spider scientist, and the third in honor of the Cherokee people. 

How are they still finding new species?

The park itself is vast. It’s huge. You could spend a lifetime wandering inside its boundaries and not see it all. And some species – many of the new ones – are very small and live in a relatively small area within the park. Look, some people believe Wild People or Big Foot are running around inside the park. Are we going to be surprised when they find a tiny spider or fish or gnat that no one has documented before? The trick is figuring out the vortex of having the right person in the right place at the right time. The park is massive, so where do you start? Apparently near picnic areas, but more on that later. 

3 New species of spiders discovered in the Smoky Mountains

Spiders from the Nesticus genus look similar to the untrained eye. The subtle differences usually come down to details in their anatomy that can usually only be spotted under magnification. Pictured: Nesticus Cellulanus, cavity spider, comb-footed cellar spider that mostly lives on wet ground looking for prey (photo by Fawwaz Media/shutterstock.com)

1. Nesticus Dykemanae 

This spider is named for the author Wilma Dykeman. Technically these aren’t new spiders. They’ve been around. The spiders are variations of the Nesticus genus (pictured above) – commonly called cave cobweb spiders though they don’t live in caves. Specifically, Dykemanae are only found very near the headwaters of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. It’s near the southwest slopes of Mt. Leconte. The paper cites a collection from 1994 near the Chimney Picnic Area. This means I’ve been hanging out several times a year near a new species of spider and missed my chance at scientific glory. 

What makes these spiders different than other members of their genus? I read the study – or at least the relevant portions – and I can say it’s all science-y. Of course, I like science. I consider myself pro-science. But when we start talking about narrowing spider septums, I’m usually lost. 

“Males … differ in the shape of both distal and proximal tegular apophyses…,” the study reads, I believe to purposely perplex me. 

In layman’s terms, the subtle differences come down to tiny details in their anatomy that can usually only be spotted under magnification. The upshot is there’s a new spider. You wouldn’t recognize it if it bit you. But it won’t bite you … probably. I mean, they do lack a whip-like paracymbial paradistal process, so how bad could they be?

“‘Males … differ in the shape of both distal and proximal tegular apophyses…,’ the study reads, I believe to purposely perplex me …”

– John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com
A Nesticus Barri spider
A Nesticus Barri, a relative of the newly discovered Nesticus Binfordae shares similar characteristics to the newly discovered species (photo courtesy of Marshal Hedin, Marc A. Milne/Alan Cressler/National Library of Medicine/Creative Commons)

2. Nesticus Binfordae 

Named in honor of Dr. Greta Binford, an arachnologist, and past president of the American Arachnological Society. The authors cited her inspirational spider research. They also mentioned her leadership in making the AAS a more diverse and welcoming society. 

The Binforda, Heldon and Milne wrote, is found only from three parallel north-flowing drainages in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These include the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River, and more easterly draining Indian Camp and Cosby Creeks. They were found a little more than a mile upstream of the Greenbrier Picnic Area. Look, I’m no scientist but between Binfordae and Dykemanae, it seems pretty clear that new species of spiders like the picnic areas. Want to make your name in the arachnid scientific community? Get thee to a picnic area. 

“Look, I’m no scientist but between Binfordae and Dykemanae, it seems pretty clear that new species of spiders like the picnic areas.”

– John Gullion, Contributor, TheSmokies.com
a nesticus dykemanae spider
A Nesticus Stupkai, also found in the Smoky Mountains, seen here with an egg sac (photo courtesy of Marshal Hedin, Marc A. Milne/Alan Cressler/National Library of Medicine/Creative Commons)

3. Nesticus Cherokeensis 

Named to honor the larger Cherokee Nation, the Cherokeenis live near the Qualla Boundary. It’s the ancestral home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. So it seems like the Binfordae and Cherokeensis enjoy similar habitats. 

“Along the Maddron Bald and Mt. Cammerer trails we collected both Nesticus Cherokeensis and N. Binfordae,” they wrote.

The authors said the finding indicates that these species can coexist without interference.  However, because the multiple collections were taken in both locations, Milne and Hedin couldn’t say conclusively whether the spiders coexist or just live very close to each other. 

The mountains are full of wonders great and small and provide nearly limitless opportunities for scientific exploration. Large changes in habitat can open relatively small geographic areas due to elevation changes. This can lead to members of the same genus with enough variation to be considered a new species. In 2023, a pair of scientists identified three new species of spiders in a relatively small portion of the park. Imagine what else is out there, waiting to be found. 

PS: Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for area promos.

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