Dr Peter Jäger from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, found the collossal harvestman while exploring caves during a trip in Laos.
It is one of the largest representatives of the entire order discovered anywhere in the world, but a lack of researchers with expertise in the taxonomy of local wildlife mean it has as yet escaped definition.
Dr Jäger, an arachnologist, had been visiting the south-east Asian nation to film a documentary when he made the discovery.
‘In between takes I collected spiders from the caves in the southern province of Khammouan,’ he said. ‘In one of the caves I discovered a harvestman that was absolutely huge.’
The leg span of the gigantic male harvestman was more than 33cm (nearly 1.1ft). That’s just a centimetre shy of the current record leg span for a species from South America.
However, when the time came to sort and label his find Dr Jäger, who mainly deals with huntsman spiders, found himself stumped. Harvestmen are arachnids, but they are not spiders.
Even the specialist he consulted, Ana Lucia Tourinho from the National Institute for Research of the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil, could only conclude that it is probably the genus Gagrella in the Sclerosomatidae family.
‘It’s a shame we can’t identify such an exceptional discovery correctly,’ Dr Jäger said. ‘We haven’t dealt with these and related genera from China and neighbouring South East Asia before.
‘Specialists are also unavailable due to the fact that descriptive taxonomy is no longer the main focus of research funding.’
The harvestmen of the Sclerosomatidae family can be found in virtually every habitat and they constitute an ecologically very important predator group in the natural food chain.
Once properly classified and investigated, the creatures could serve as an indicator of the ecological state of the natural and cultural scenery.