Mystery Hills Spider

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 13th, 2006

September 13, 2006

Student Says He’s Found Spider Species


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A previously unknown creature has been roaming the Kenai Peninsula’s Mystery Hills – or at least its alpine rock crevices.

Matt Bowser, 26, a University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student, has identified what is believed to be a new species of spider, a thumbtack-sized daddy longlegs, or harvestman. Bowser is writing a journal article on the spider with a national arachnid expert that will undergo peer review.

Bowser was collecting bugs 13 months ago when he found the spider north of the Sterling Highway and west of Cooper Landing.

Bowser brought samples back to his lab at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where he is helping federal managers conduct a comprehensive study of refuge creatures.

He searched books but could not find a spider to match his specimen. He sent a sample to a harvestman expert, James Cokendolpher, an associate at the Natural Science Research Laboratory at Texas Tech University. The internationally recognized expert classified the spider as a new species and is collaborating with Bowser on the journal article.

Differences in the insect world can be subtle. Bowser said the easiest way to identify many arachnids is by the genitals. When he cut one of the spiders open, he noticed hairs growing in a direction he had not seen before.

The spider is shades of brown, with beige spots. It is about 5 millimeters across when stretched out, compared to the 9 millimeters of the common, gray-brown household daddy longlegs.

Bowser is originally from Orlando, Fla. He holds an undergraduate entomology degree from the University of Florida. His temporary employers at the refuge call him an “entomologist extraordinaire.”

“That doesn’t happen,” refuge manager Robin West said of the discovery. “You might find something new to Alaska or a range, but new to science is something else.”

Few entymologists study Alaska’s vast terrain. Agricultural interests pay for most insect studies in the Lower 48 and by comparison, there’s little farming in Alaska.

“It’s such a frontier here,” Bowser said. “It’s pretty easy to make a contribution. In the Lower 48 you have to look harder to find something new.”

Derek Sikes, entomology curator at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, said that what is most exciting about Bowser’s discovery is that it means curious people are poking around Alaska.

“We’ve yet to reach a point where we can say we know all the species – or even most of the species – in Alaska,” he said. “It’s nice to know that there are people in Alaska now, like Matt, who are interested enough and competent enough to recognize a new species.”

The discovery has been going through a documentation process. The spider will not be recognized as an official new species until it undergoes peer review and publication in a journal, such as the Journal of Arachnology. Sikes said experts already are aware of the find and approval is likely.

Bowser has been trying to learn what the spiders do. He observes some in a terrarium and others during overnight stays in the mountains, using an unobtrusive red light to watch them during their active periods.

“They mostly sit there,” Bowser said. “They may be sitting and waiting for something (tasty) to come by,” he said, though he has watched one sit stonelike as a would-be meal pranced in front of it.

That happens in his home terrarium too, where they prefer dead flies.

Generally, harvestmen are opportunists that will kill many insects but are just as content scavenging on dead bugs, he said.

Information from: Anchorage Daily News,

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

11 Responses to “Mystery Hills Spider”

  1. shumway10973 responds:

    That’s awesome! Though I found it a little disturbing when he mentioned cutting into their genitals to find out if they are a new species. This article hits my feeling on most “experts” on the head of the nail. I have great respect for this man because not only is he going where he is needed, but he is also getting out into the field and actually looking (on his hands and knees) for little critters.

  2. jayman responds:

    Interesting article – some crypto work is done at very small scales.

    For the record, harvestmen are not spiders, though they are related. And neither spiders or harvestmen are insects.

  3. Jeremy_Wells responds:


    True, but most of us journalist types have a hard time spelling inverterbra…




  4. Tim Cassidy responds:

    Indeed, they are not spiders, they are opiliones. Instead of two body parts as spiders they have only one. They are still classified as arachnids (ie. eight legs), and they aren’t venomous either! Talk about urban folklore!

    Congrats on the find!

  5. jayman responds:

    Jeremy, et al, I didn’t mean to be pedantic here, but this is a good example of how popular press (this is AP) science reports garble data and create confusion. The headline flatly states the student found a spider species, then a couple sentences into the report equates spider with harvestman. Then in the next sentence it’s back to “spider” again. So, bottom line is it’s hard to be certain from this report just what he did find – I’m assuming a new harvestman.

    I’m not saying whoever wrote this report should have known the difference up front, but a few minutes’ research on the Web before going into print would have cleared it up easily.

  6. purrlcat responds:

    Do daddy longlegs bite humans? Everyone tells me NO, but I think differently. I was in my backyard at a cookout one time, wearing shorts. I was sitting there, minding my own business when I felt a ‘stinging’ pain on my shin. It was like the stinging of a ‘biting’ fly. I looked down to see a daddy longlegs sitting right there on my leg! I brushed him off and complained it had bitten me, but everyone just pooh-poohed it, and kept telling me they don’t bite, while my leg was still stinging. I say they bite!

  7. mystery_man responds:

    “Daddy long legs” as they are often called are actually quite venomous. However, although their venom is potent, they lack the ability to puncture human skin. they just are not equipped with strong enough fangs. I think something else bit you and the daddy long legs on your leg took the blame. Unless you have discovered a new type that can bite harder.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    I went and researched more on this spider (they are not my area of expertise!) and it seems that their venom is not even that strong when used on insects. The common notion that they have powerful venom is a myth apparently. Even scientists and documentarians who should know better buy into this myth. Hmmm, learn somthing new everyday.

  9. kacoshiajewl responds:

    Daddy longlegs do bite, to answer the question.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Yes, they bite. Other insects.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    See it’s this kind of misinformation that gets spread around and then people start to believe it. Before you know it, people think they suck brains and burrow into a host. These creatures do not bite humans. Just google harvestman and do some research on it before spreading false information.

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