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Peru: Scientists solve Amazon Rainforest mystery

Terra Hall

Experts have determined that a spider is responsible for the circular structures found on leaves, tree trunks and other vegetation.

Peru: Scientists solve Amazon Rainforest mystery

(Photo: Troy Alexander/Tambopata Research Center)

Scientists just uncovered one of the most baffling Internet mysteries of 2013. Six months ago, Troy Alexander a graduate student researcher, snapped shots from deep within Peru’s Amazon of white dome-like structures encircled by tiny pillars. Researchers had no clue what could have created the structures that could be found on tree trucks, leaves and other vegetation. That is, until now.

After half a year of dedicated research, they now know that tiny spiders are the creators of these intricate webs of towers and fences.

Entomologist Phil Torres and his team of researchers cracked the case by keeping an eye on more than three dozen of the formations. What they witnessed was fascinating — three tiny spiders scurried off after emerging from from three separate web towers. After a closer examination, the team realized that each of the towers was actually an elaborate egg sac and the spiders they observed were hatchlings.

“The previous theories on how these structures were formed were vast: slime mold, spiders, fungus, lacewings, and some even thought it was a hoax,” Torres wrote on his blog.

While researchers cracked the case of the curious structures, mysteries still remain; primarily what species of spider built the formation and what young hatched from it.

“We’re still attempting to identify the spider,” wrote Torres. “There are several things that make this unusual. For one, it is not common for spiders to lay eggs and abandon them, they typically place silken egg sacs in their own web to protect. More oddly, it appears that there was only a single egg per structure. This, as far as we can tell, would be the only known occurrence of a spider laying a single egg per egg sac. We saw a few adult spiders around that were prime suspects, but never saw any making it, so the construction and culprit remain a mystery.”

Read more about this fascinating discovery on Phil Torres’ blog, Rainforest Expeditions.

Terra Hall is a journalist living in Lima, Peru. View more of her work at www.TerraHall.com.

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