After six months of speculation, we finally know what’s building these bizarre silk structures in the Amazon: a spider! But its precise identity is still a mystery that scientists are scrambling to solve.
The bizarre structures first surfaced on the internet late this summer, when graduate student Troy Alexander posted photos to Reddit and Facebook, hoping that somebody could tell him what the structures were. He had discovered them on a small island near the Tambopata Research Center, deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
Made out of silk, the intricate constructions have two parts: a tall, central tower, and a circular fence that’s about 6 millimeters across. Back then, we asked as many entomologists as we could find, but no one had any idea what the structures were, or what made them. Until now.
Last week we followed these spider-hunting scientists, led by entomologist Phil Torres, deep into the Amazon rainforest as they attempted to find the tiny silk towers and figure out where they came from. It has not been an easy case to crack.
Before sunrise on Dec. 10, Torres’ team went to the same small island. As the skies brightened and the mists lifted, they started walking through the forest. A half-hour later, Torres had spotted the first of the tiny towers. Much smaller than he had expected, the structure was on the bark of a cecropia tree, nestled near some branches.
“With a lot of other weird mysteries, once you make an observation of some sort, spend enough time out there, the pieces kind of fit together,” said Torres, a graduate student at Rice University. “I’m surprised by how difficult this one is to solve.”
Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc, Dr. Stefan Gruenwald