Tech & Science New spider species discovered by citizen scientists using Australian conservation app

02:25  05 january  2018
02:25  05 january  2018 Source:   ABC News

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A new species of spider discovered in Western Queensland has a venom that could potentially be useful in the production of pharmaceuticals, a scientist studying the animal has said.

It's tiny, curious and defined by a brilliant white punctuation mark on its back.

And the so-called exclamation point spider could be one of the newest additions to Australia's growing jumping spider family.

It is one of seven undescribed species discovered by citizen scientists during a recent QuestaGame competition.

The Australian conservation app encourages players to contribute data about plants and animals they see.

Queensland Museum arachnid expert Dr Robert Whyte partnered with the app to help identify species captured by the public.

He described some of the latest finds as "very attractive".

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Someone from NSW's Central Coast collected four suspected new species, including another small black and brown jumping spider.

"They're not uncommon but they're completely undescribed and I don't think that anyone had even collected any before this citizen science stuff sprang up, so that's how important it is," Dr Whyte said.

"We need the human energy, we need the people power, and it is lucky that there are so many new things to find where people are."

He said citizen scientists did the grunt work by identifying common spiders, giving experts more time to investigate unusual specimens popping up on the database.

And if you happen to stumble across an unnamed species, it could end up with your name on it.

"I think this kind of game inspires a love of naming things, or at least finding out what their names are," Dr Whyte said.

Dr Whyte said people could discover a lot by taking a closer look at small spiders crawling through leaf litter or those camouflaged on tree bark.

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"Spiders are great subjects for photography," he said.

"Some just look at the lens of the camera with their big eyes; that's just magnificent.

"It opens the door to an enormous, complex and beautiful world."

Australia has around 4,000 described spider species, but Dr Whyte said that number could double if enough people started searching their backyards and gardens.

"I'm pretty sure I could find a new species in somebody's backyard if it was reasonably close to bush, within half an hour."

QuestaGame co-founder David Haynes said the data being collected by schoolchildren, seniors and nature enthusiasts was a valuable resource.

"We're all about using technology in a smart way to help bring people back to nature rather than have technology distancing people from nature, like it often does," he said.

"It's not just the new species [that are] important for research but the distributions and movements of everything that exists.

Information collected by the app feeds into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), a repository of open data collected by citizen science projects, museums and other government-funded organisations.

Last month the app's datasets were downloaded more than any other public dataset in Australia.

QuestaGame is launching a competition targeting moth and butterfly species on January 5.

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