SCIENCE

Endangered Spider Discovery Stops $15 Million Texas Highway Construction Project (VIDEO)

09/10/2012 04:22 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2012

While biologists may be rejoicing over the recent discovery of a rare spider that was thought to be extinct, not everyone is elated -- particularly commuters around San Antonio, Texas.

Workers found the Braken Bat Cave Meshweaver (Cicurina venii) spider, which hasn't been seen in three decades, in the middle of a $15.1 million highway construction project in northwestern San Antonio. The eyeless arachnid is on the endangered species list—since construction would disrupt the spider's natural habitat, the project has been halted for the foreseeable future.

Jean Krejca, a biologist and President of Zara Environmental who was consulting on the project, made the extraordinary discovery after a downpour of rain revealed a 6-foot deep spider hole. After dissecting the spider, a taxonomist later confirmed that the distinct-looking arachnid was, in fact, the Meshweaver, named for its pattern of webbing.

The Meshweaver was placed on the federal endangered species list in 2000, along with eight other spiders found only in the Texas county. George Veni first identified the spider in 1980 in a location five miles away from the construction site.

Krejca compared the discovery to “stumbling on a new Galapagos Island in terms of the biological significance of the region."

Construction on the highway at Texas 151 and Loop 1604 began in April and biologists like Krejca were on hand to "observe and preserve" the scene, which is reportedly full of natural resources, according to Stirling J. Robertson, the Texas Department of Transportation's biology team leader.

Aside from the Meshweaver, biologists discovered 19 cave features, five of which contained other non-endangered species of spiders. However, Robertson believes the entire area may be a Meshweaver habitat.

Construction has been terminated until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Highway Administration can determine the best way to continue the project without disturbing the rare spider's habitat. Josh Donat, San Antonio District spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said it is too early to tell which options are viable.


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