Dear Mr M. wawuensis,
Thank you for your application to study at the Academy of Terrors and General Unpleasantness. As you know, the Academy can only accept a very limited number of students each year, and unfortunately we cannot offer you a place this coming semester. This decision was based on a rigorous assessment from our admissions committee, who were very impressed by your academic achievements, but ultimately decided that your modest size unequivocally undermines your potential as an arachnid to be either terrifying or unpleasant, both of which are essential requirements of the Academy.
However, there are a number of fine institutions that I’m sure would be thrilled to have you, considering the achievements and qualities outlined in your application. There’s the College of Difficult-to-Sees and the Academy of Cute-For-As, and while the Society of Invisibles is notoriously secretive, it might be worth tracking them down. I would be happy to write you a recommendation based on the fact that yours was the only application in the history of the Academy of Terrors that required a magnifying glass to read.
I wish you all the best,
Professor Moistcrust Skinfingers
Two new species of spider no bigger than a grain of sand have been discovered, their strange, bulbous bodies hidden from scientists for years under the moist leaf litter of China’s dense forests.
At just 1.01 mm and 0.75 mm long respectively, the newly described species Trogloneta yuensis and Mysmena wawuensis aren’t winning any visibility contests. They belong to the little-studied family Mysmenidae, which includes 123 known species of minute orb-weaving spiders spread all across the globe in caves, forests and rainforests, wherever it’s humid and tropical.
Thanks to their webs, which are about the size of an apricot, Yucheng Lin from China’s Sichuan University and Shuqiang Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing found one T. yuensis in the Jinyun Mountain Nature Reserve in Chongqing, and two M. wawuensis spiders in the Wawu Mountain National Forest Park of Sichuan. Sichuan is the most important place in the world for giant pandas, with 76% of the global population living in its dense and misty forests. Ten giant pandas live in the Wawu Mountain Park, along with red pandas, 30 species of reptiles and these tiny M. wawuensis spiders.
Lin and Li describe the spiders, with their disproportionately large and spherical posteriors, in a recent edition of Zookeys. Considered one of the smallest known species of spider, M. wawuensis has a distinctive black body speckled ever so slightly with yellow, and its golden legs are about a millimetre long. The males are smaller than the females, with bodies just 0.60 mm long. Meanwhile, T. yuensis is almost the opposite – their huge, yellow posteriors patterned with feathery black spots. The males of both species have very large pedipalps, which are the two hairy, arm-like appendages that sit between the foremost pair of legs and act like antennae.
A bulbous body seems to have served these tiny spiders well, and they share the trait with what is considered the smallest spider in the world, Patu digua. This Columbian native is just 0.37 mm long in the females, and the males – none of which have ever been found – are likely to be even tinier.
My book, Zombie birds, astronaut fish and other weird animals, is now available in the US, from Amazon and most book stores.
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX