The blue tarantulas were discovered residing within mangrove trees, which face continual threat of deforestation.
Following the discovery of the bamboo culm tarantula in 2022, researchers in Thailand embarked on a new journey to see if they could find any other species waiting to be discovered. Now, they have announced their efforts were a success, as a new species of tarantula with an electric blue coloring has been discovered in Thailand’s Phang-Nga province.
“The first specimen we found was on a tree in the mangrove forest. These tarantulas inhabit hollow trees, and the difficulty of catching an electric-blue tarantula lies in the need to climb a tree and lure it out of a complex of hollows amid humid and slippery conditions,” researcher Dr. Narin Chomphuphuang said in a statement. “During our expedition, we walked in the evening and at night during low tide, managing to collect only two of them.”
The newly discovered species, Chilobrachys natanicharum, has a unique coloration not typically found in nature.
According to the statement, blue is one of the rarest colors to appear in nature. For an object to appear blue, it needs to absorb small amounts of energy while also reflecting high-energy blue light. The process required to create the molecules capable of absorbing energy in this manner is complex, making it extraordinary when a creature naturally takes on this coloration.
In the case of C. natanicharum, however, it doesn’t end there. The tarantula also features a deep violet hue, which gives it an iridescent effect, leading researchers to dub it the “jewel of the forest.”
“The secret behind the vivid blue coloration of our tarantula lies not in the presence of blue pigments, but rather in the unique structure of their hair, which incorporates nanostructures that manipulate light to create this striking blue appearance,” Narin said.
Narin added that C. natanicharum “demonstrates remarkable adaptability,” allowing it to live in “arboreal as well as terrestrial burrows in evergreen forests.” In mangrove forests, however, these tarantulas are restricted to living within tree hollows due to the changing tides.
C. natanicharum was given its name following an auction, which allowed the buyers to suggest a new name for the species. Nichada Properties Co., Ltd., Thailand won the auction campaign, and suggested the name “natanicharum” based on a combination of the names of two company executives, Mr. Natakorn and Ms. Nichada Changrew.
Proceeds from the auction were donated to support impoverished cancer patients and the education of Thailand’s Lahu children.
As researchers noted in their study, published in the journal ZooKeys, the Lahu people are an indigenous tribe in northern Thailand known for their “vibrant culture and traditional way of life.”
Many Lahu children, however, have limited or no access to education due to poverty. Cancer, meanwhile, continues to affect millions of people each year, but expensive healthcare costs make it difficult for cancer patients to access quality care.
“We believe that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, regardless of their financial situation,” the researchers wrote.
Additionally, the researchers noted, habitat loss poses a major threat to C. natanicharum, as mangrove forests are still struggling to recover from decades of rapid deforestation.
According to a report from Mongabay, mangrove trees were widely taken for granted until 2004, when a massive tsunami devastated the region around the Indian Ocean, claiming more than 200,000 lives across 14 countries.
In 2005, a report revealed that mangrove trees reduced the energy of tsunami waves and protected nearby villages from suffering major damage. Moreover, mangrove trees are remarkably efficient at storing excess carbon from the atmosphere.
Since that report was published, mangrove tree conservation has gained significant momentum, but there is still much work to be done when it comes to restoring mangrove forests. As global carbon emissions continue to rise, some experts have taken to referring to mangrove forests as “ecosystems of hope.”
The good news is that mangrove loss is slowing, and now more than 42 percent of the world’s mangroves are considered protected. Notably, Brazil, Bangladesh, and the United States protect more than 80 percent of their mangroves — a 17 percent increase since 2012.
Unfortunately, in Southeast Asia, where most of the world’s mangroves exist, the protection rate is generally only in the 20 percent range. This region also happens to be a “hotspot of the world’s coastal wetlands losses… primarily due to rice and palm oil production,” said Nicholas Murray of the Global Ecology Lab at James Cook University in Australia.
The discovery of C. natanicharum shines a new light on the ongoing environmental concerns surrounding mangroves.
“This raises a critical question: Are we unintentionally contributing to the destruction of their natural habitats, pushing these unique creatures out of their homes?” the researchers concluded.
After learning about this newly discovered tarantula species, read about when researchers discovered a white-eyed “demon shark” off the coast of Australia. Or, learn about a recently discovered moth species with the longest tongue of any insect.