Little Spider Halts $15 million Texas Construction Project

The $15 million construction of the highway at Texas 151 and Loop 1604 was running smoothly until the arrival of an incredibly rare eyeless spider

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Zara Environmental

This tiny arachnid has a pretty big bite.

The discovery of a cicurina venii — or the Braken Bat Cave meshweaver spider, as it is commonly known — in late August has caused a $15 million highway construction project in northwestern San Antonio to grind to a halt.

The reason? Nobody has seen a Braken Bat Cave meshweaver in more than three decades.

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The dime-sized spider has been on the endangered species list since 2000, and when biologist Jean Krejca, who was consulting on the construction project, spotted it following a rain shower, building was halted so that scientists could explore the area.

The eyeless spider is known as a meshweaver for the kind of unevenly shaped web it weaves. It was originally discovered in 1980 in the cave it was named after, just five miles from where it was found again in August. The original cave has since been filled in and covered by a residential development. The elusive spider has not been seen since.

However while the discovery is being hailed as something akin to “stumbling on a new Galapagos Island in terms of the biological significance in the region” — as Jean Krejca, the biologist who found the spider, put it — it’s also a headache for local commuters. Nearly 80,000 drivers pass through the area daily.

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The highway project, which began in April, is now on hold indefinitely as the Texas Department of Transportation decides on the best course of action.

Meanwhile, scientists are rejoicing in the possible further discoveries to be found in the area. Biologists were present from the start of the construction because the area is known for its abundance of songbirds and rare cave animals, including the spiders. Nineteen other cave features, resembling the holes similar to the one the spider was found in, have been identified during the course of construction.

(TIME Magazine: Science: The Clever Arachnids)

There is a possiblity that the construction on the highway, at  Texas 151 and Loop 1604, may be scrapped altogether if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services deem that it would disturb the creature’s habitat.

Unfortunately, while one Braken Bat Cave meshweaver may turn out to be the savior of many other rare animals in the area, it faced a swift demise as it had to be dissected by a taxonomist for verification purposes.

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9 comments
owenmartin
owenmartin like.author.displayName 1 Like

I have mixed feelings about this, but I support the killing of the spider.  A vast majority of spiders can only be identified by dissection and careful examination of the genitalia. Seriously. I'm not kidding. They most likely found the spider, identified it to genus, and realized that it was in the right habitat, and decided to dissect it for identification. I doubt killing one individual had any significant effect on the population. If it did, the population must be tiny, and frankly, the species is already screwed anyways.

Al Duke
Al Duke

I happen to live in the area, and would have benefited from the construction of this underpass. It baffles me how a quarter sized spider has halted construction of this project. I can't believe that they destroyed the only known living specimen of this spider to verify its identity. So while this one of a kind spider "faced a swift demise" so did the construction project.  While I favor protection of endangered species, I believe they should continue with the construction as it stands, the entire area where this cave was found has already been cleared of all vegetation making it uninhabitable.

stuartalbeck
stuartalbeck

I too live in this area and I agree with you. Really? This one spot is the only place they live and we have to stop everything? Everyone else commenting on this has no idea the delays and traffic that this area has. How about this...gather up all the stupid eyeless spiders and move them somewhere else! There are tons of caves or underground areas just like this all over south texas. They will be very happy there and it will take people 15 minutes to get home instead of an hour...

T.R. Wolfe
T.R. Wolfe

Leave it to Texans to be annoyed by science stuff.

stuartalbeck
stuartalbeck

Leave it to people NOT from Texas to think they know everything about us...

Jacquie Tellalian
Jacquie Tellalian

so they killed the uber-rare spider to dissect it for verification??  please explain this logic to me...

jpar
jpar

To identify many species of spiders, you have to put the adults abdomen under a microscope and look at it's genetalia. That goes for this species. These spiders also die quickly once outside of the cave environment so often they're dead by the time they get to the random person who can actually identify them. Doesn't seem like the right way, but would you rather them stop the construction based on "It might be this species...."