The world’s oldest known spider has died at the ripe old age of 43 after being monitored for years during a long-term population study in Western Australia’s Central Wheatbelt. The trapdoor matriarch, named Number 16 far outlived the previous record holder, a 28-year-old tarantula found in Mexico, according to a study published in the Pacific Conservation Biology Journal. According to researchers, the spider did not die of old age but was killed by a wasp sting.
A research project to study trapdoor spiders in the Central Wheatbelt region of Western Australia was first launched in 1974 by Barbara York Main, during which Number 16 was found and monitored. The trapdoor spider helped scientists to unlock important information about the behaviour of an arachnid that can be found across Australia, including in domestic gardens. Lead author Leanda Mason from Curtin University said, “To our knowledge this is the oldest spider ever recorded, and her significant life has allowed us to further investigate the trapdoor spider’s behaviour and population dynamics.”
Mason further added, “Through Barbara’s detailed research, we were able to determine that the extensive life span of the trapdoor spider is due to their life-history traits, including how they live in uncleared, native bushland, their sedentary nature and low metabolisms.” Number 16 was monitored in the wild. Female trapdoor spiders stay in and around the same burrow virtually all their lives, so researchers marked her burrow and went back to check on it regularly. The study also gave a better understanding of how the future stresses of climate change and deforestation could impact the species.
Professor Main’s research has shown that the male trapdoor spider leaves his burrow at maturity, around seven to nine years old, to wander in search of a mate, around which he dies. The females stay in or near their burrows, to raise hatchlings inside the protection of her burrow, which she temporarily seals up with a mud plug. She lives in the same burrow for the duration of her life. Trapdoor spiders traditionally have a life span of five to 20 years. They are not a major threat to humans, although a bite can cause pain and swelling.