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Monterey Bay is a source of new scientific discoveries—and not just underwater. Meet this new trapdoor spider.

Good afternoon. 

This is Asaf Shalev, whose job title, staff writer, is much simpler than that of the person featured in today’s newsletter introduction: Jason Bond. He is the Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics and a professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis. 

Don’t get lost in the lingo and honorifics. Professor Bond has a very cool job. In 1997, he was doing science on the sandy shores of Moss Landing State Beach when he discovered a trapdoor spider. It’s a type of spider that doesn’t weave webs or catch its prey in the air. Instead, trapdoor spiders burrow into the ground to make a hole. They cover the whole with a trapdoor made of soil. It has a latch made of silk. The spider hides inside the hole until it feels the vibration of its prey on the ground outside and then launches out and grabs it. Here’s a GIF of what it looks like

The particular arachnid Bond found was female and it appeared to come from an entirely unknown genus of trapdoor spider. For decades, he kept coming back to look for a male counterpart but never found one. Until last year. 

With both sexes of the species confirmed, Bond set out to formally declare the discovery of a new species. 

He needed a genus name and species name. For the former, he chose Cryptocteniza, which combines the Greek words for “hidden” (this one’s obvious) and “comb” (referring to an anatomical feature). For the species name, Bond outsourced the naming to the public at large. The winning entry in the naming competition was Kawtak. It means “on the seashore” in the language of the Mutsun people, the indigenous tribe of the central Monterey Bay area. Finally, in September, Bond published a scientific paper on the discovery: “We report here the discovery of a remarkable new monotypic mygalomorph spider genus, known only from one geographical location along the central coast of California.”

I am used to all manner of amazing discoveries from the Monterey Bay, but they usually happen deep underwater. That this new species was found on the beach should serve as a reminder that the world is still full of unknown wonders and that the Earth is worth protecting.

-Asaf Shalev, staff writer, asaf@mcweekly.com

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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