The Critically Endangered Liphistius kanthan Trap-door Spider

Last month I was asked by a friend (working for a large conservation NGO) whether I could go to Malaysia to document and take photos of a critically endangered trap-door spider, which can only be found in one cave on this planet.  I thought, trap-door spider hmmm, apart from the fact that I have not been doing any serious caving before.  It turned out to be a most enjoyable assignment even in the total darkness!


According to IUCN this species is known from a single cave situated in a limestone hill named Gunung Kanthan, Perak State, Malaysia.


A survey in 2001 showed that the cave was 435 m long.  The cave is up to about 40 m high. A large entrance, rather high up the hill, slopes down into a more constricted passage leading into a large chamber with an opening overhead.


The chamber gradually becomes smaller and leads to an exit. A meandering stream has cut into the cave floor, but the water appears to be stagnant. In this cave, all the specimens are found in nests on the cave walls.


A totally unique habitat and environment.


Liphistius kanthan builds its nest on the cave wall or floor and camouflages it with mud and dirt. The front door of the nest is a trapdoor with 6-8 signal threads or trip wires radiating out. The spider waits with one leg on each thread, and if prey trips the wire, the spider rushes out, catches the victim and runs home slamming the door. If, however, the prey turns out to be an enemy, the spider can escape by means of a back door.


After mating the female hangs an egg sac below her nest. The juveniles leave this sac and make their own nests (Platnick et al. 1997, Price 2011).


The tiny Liphistius kanthan lives in total darkness on the cave wall or floor.


The major threat is the limestone quarrying of the site by Lafarge Malaya planned for 2013 (Price 2012) which has already eliminated the northern two-thirds of what was once a two-peaked hill. The southern part of the hill is the part with the cave and it is within their permitted concession.

Press reports in 2013 indicated that Lafarge Malaya would start quarrying the hill in June 2013 but the company headquarters said that it is unlikely to start for up to 18 months (i.e. early 2015.).



Source: IUCN.

A big thank you to Liz Price!

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