5 minutes with Dr Michael Rix, Principal Curator & Research Fellow, Arachnology

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

My favourite objects in the arachnology scientific collection are our Pelican Spiders of the family Archaeidae. Pelican Spiders were actually known from fossils before living specimens were first discovered in the forests of Madagascar in the 19th Century. Today, living species are known only from Australia, Madagascar and southern Africa, but fossils are known from the Jurassic Period, and there have been Pelican Spiders on Earth for over 200 million years! They have highly modified bodies, with a hugely elevated head region and long, spear-like mouthparts, which they use to prey on other spiders (they are also sometimes called Assassin Spiders). In Australia we have 38 named species, and in Queensland they occur in rainforest habitats from the Lamington National Park north to the Wet Tropics.

Pelican Spider (Austrarchaea griswoldi) from Eungella National Park (Queensland). Image by M. Rix.

Do you have any interesting facts about spiders?

Did you know…

  • The largest specimen in the Queensland Museum spider collection is a Goliath Tarantula (Theraphosa blondi) from South America, with a leg span almost as large as a dinner plate.
  • The smallest specimen in the museum spider collection is a micro orb-weaving spider (family Symphytognathidae) from tropical Queensland, with a body length of less than 1 mm.
  • The Queensland Museum has the largest collection of spiders from Australian rainforests, and the most significant collection of species from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of north-eastern Queensland. These collections underpin our scientific understanding of the diversity of species in these habitats.
  • The rarest items in the museum spider collection are a handful of specimens belonging to the family Periegopidae. Periegopid spiders are among the rarest spiders in the world, and in Australia are known from only two sites in Queensland. Queensland Museum houses Australia’s only known specimens.
  • The longest-lived spider in the world was a giant trapdoor spider from Western Australia, that lived to 43 years of age.
  • Queensland Museum scientists have named nearly one-third of all described spider species in Australia – that’s over 1,000 species.

I estimate that there are xx species waiting to be formally described in my area…

I estimate that there are possibly up to 15,000 spider species waiting to be formally described in Australia, assuming only around 20% of the fauna has already been named. Even if this is an overestimate, there is a lot of work still to be done!

Tell us a little bit about your area and why do you love working in this specific research area?

I ‘discovered’ arachnology at the age of 10, and never looked back! Spiders are endlessly fascinating creatures which are terribly misunderstood, and I am lucky to be able to work in a field that I am passionate about. Being a systematic arachnologist means I get to explore remarkable environments, discover new and amazing species, and undertake research on one of the most diverse lineages of life on Earth. Spiders also need a lot of love, and I see both the communication of my research, and the provision of authoritative information to the public, as important parts of my role.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

The thing I love most about being a Curator at the Queensland Museum is that I get to work with the museum’s remarkable scientific collection. The Queensland Museum arachnology collection is one of the largest in Australia, and contains a priceless record of our State’s biodiversity. To be able to work on this collection, and document the numerous new species that it contains, is a privilege that never gets old.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

One of the most interesting things I have learnt while working at  Queensland Museum is just how remarkably diverse the rainforests of Queensland actually are. It is well known that rainforests are special places, with a higher than normal concentration of species, but the collections at the museum reveal just how amazingly diverse our rainforests can be. Whether it is Lamington National Park in the south, or the Iron Range in the north (and everywhere in between), Queensland Museum’s collections are replete with a staggering number of species found nowhere else.

Learn more about Dr Michael Rix here.