Cave-dwelling daddy longlegs with foot-long leg span

A daddy longlegs with an incredible foot-long  leg span has been discovered – and left scientists baffled as to how to classify  it.

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.

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