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Portuguese scientist discovers new species of animal in Timor-Leste

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Portuguese biologist Ana Sofia Reboleira has discovered in Timor-Leste a new species of the caveman, an arachnid that only exists in caves on the island and is described in an article published today in the scientific journal Zookeys.

The new species discovered by Ana Sofia Reboleira has the scientific name ‘Sarax timorensis’ reflecting the fact that it is ‘an exclusive species of Timor’, and is also the first time discovery of the genus is made in East Timor, the biologist explained.

It is an arachnid of the order of the amblipígios, that is typically tropical and subtropical animals, predators that capture their prey with powerful chelicerae (typical appendages of the arachnids that form a pair of tongs), but that unlike the spiders they do not have poison.

The animal, discovered in a grotto in the eastern province of Lautém in East Timor, is “the largest species of its kind and has poor eyes and pigmentation, an evolutionary consequence of adaptation to cave life,” said the researcher.

Sarax timorensis” was discovered by the scientist during the first Portuguese speleological expedition of the “Fatuk-kuak hosi Timor-Lorosa’e” project to East Timor caves in 2016, in which she coordinated the first biological exploration works in caves on the island.

I remember well collecting these specimens,” said Ana Sofia Reboleira, describing the cave that “had access well, an underground stream and a colony of bats.”

The specimens were collected “in a side gallery where there was a huge black snake that hunted bats passing in the main gallery,” he said, recalling that while collecting the animals “an East Timorese colleague was watching the movements of the snake, which was very close.

The expedition, organized by four Portuguese caving groups (among which the Speleology Center of the University of Aveiro to which the biologist belongs), lasted a month, during which the Portuguese cavers trained – at the National University of Timor Lorosa ‘ and in reference schools in various parts of the country – about the underground environment and the importance of caves in local water supply.

With the support of the Oriente Foundation and the National University of Timor Lorosa’e, the expedition also had the participation of the group of Timorese speleologists Juventude Hadomi Natureza.

The islands are very peculiar ecosystems where living organisms are isolated and where the ecological and evolutionary processes can be studied in a more simplified way,” said the biologist, believing that given the characteristics of the caves “the underground environment in islands is a true living laboratory for biological studies.

Ana Sofia Reboleira is a professor at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen, where she coordinates a laboratory dedicated to the study of underground ecosystems on a global scale.

The description of the new species that has now been published in the scientific journal Zookeys had the collaboration of Gustavo Miranda, a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution in the United States of America.

With this increase to 59 new species and six new genera, for science discovered by Ana Sofia Reboleira.

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