Ole Miss graduate student discovers new species of tarantula

Posted on Feb 16 2018 - 7:59am by Hadley Hitson

An Ole Miss graduate student can now add “discovering a new species” to his resume.

Andrew Snyder, a biological science doctoral student, specializes in the study of reptiles and amphibians, but discovered a new species of tarantula while on a trip to Guyana.

“I knew immediately that this tarantula was unlike any other species I have found there before with its bright blue coloring,” Snyder said. “The electric blue and black just isn’t seen that often in nature.”

Gail Stratton, a biology professor for whom Snyder worked as a teacher’s assistant, said that this may not have even been the first new species Snyder had found.

“There’s probably a ton of new species that Andrew has photographed, but sometimes there’s just something special that draws media attention,” Stratton said. “In this case, I think it’s the cobalt coloring.”

Snyder said that finding the new species can be a bittersweet experience.

“Frankly, it’s a double-edged sword,” Snyder said. “We want to be able to learn more about what is around us, but with ongoing threats of deforestation and climate change, it’s sad to realize that as we’re just discovering these new species, we have to wonder how much longer they are going to be around.”

Snyder worked with several organizations in his survey of isolated areas in Guyana.

“I think this spider is receiving a lot of coverage because it is associated with large organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Wildlife Conservation,” Snyder said. “We can now have an invertebrate that is generally overlooked become a beacon for conservation.”

Stratton, who specializes in spiders, said that there may be many more tarantulas out there to discover.

“There are estimates that we only know from 20 to 30 percent of the types of tarantulas, which means that there could be 70 percent unknown,” Stratton said. “There’s just a lot of information out in the world that we don’t know, but with biologists like Andrew, we are discovering more every day.”

Snyder’s time as a student at Ole Miss draws to a close this semester, and he had his Ph.D. defense in biological sciences on Feb 12.

He credits his professors for helping him gain the knowledge and experience to make these types of discoveries.

“The diversity of professors that we have in the Ole Miss bio department have really helped me look at the big picture rather than getting so narrowly focused on a micro-topic,” Snyder said.

Studying biology in environments from South America to the southern United States, Snyder values the variety of animals he has researched.

“I’ve been to Guyana 10 times now. I have never summed it all up, but I’ve probably spent over a year living out of a hammock in the rainforest doing research,” he said.  “Those are my absolute favorite memories. Being here at Ole Miss, specifically getting to work with my doctoral supervisor Dr. Brice Noonan, has just really developed me into an all-around better biologist.”

Snyder’s images of the bright blue spider have been published and viewed all over the world through companies like BBC News, FOX news, and Newsweek. The Guyana Zoo already has a mural of his image of the tarantula plastered on a wall.

Regardless of the personal notoriety this discovery brings him, Snyder said he hopes the new species inspires people to appreciate their world.

“I’m just glad that this little spider is getting all of this fame, and that now people are pausing to take a second look at the nature around them,” Snyder said.