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Posted: February 28, 2012

Biologists discover rare spider near Columbia Lake

By Lesley Marian Neilson

As much as it seems that we humans have left no stone unturned in our explorations of this planet, it turns out Mother Nature is still harbouring a few secrets.

A trio of scientists from the Royal BC Museum has discovered a rare spider near Columbia Lake in the East Kootenay – the first recorded finding of this species in Canada.

“It’s a very small and poorly known member of the cobweb spider family,” said Dr. Robb Bennett. “As far as I can tell, only four or so specimens are known to science, including the one we found.”

It’s hard to imagine how these biologists even spotted the wee creature. Measuring only 1.5 milimetres in length, you’d need a keen eye to find this spider.

“I was wearing a headband magnifier like the kind a dentist uses,” said Bennett, “but the others just use their naked eye. You tune in to the search image – the pattern and texture you expect to see when you turn over a rock or pull apart a rotting log. Anything out of the ordinary, especially if it’s moving, will jump out at you.”

The biologists carefully combed through leaves, fallen logs and other natural debris littering the ground in search of bugs, particularly tiny spiders.  Most of the specimens gathered that day were relatively uninteresting, but among the collection was a small, drab spider that sparked considerable interest despite its ho-hum appearance.

Identified as Dipoena provalis, the spider is known from only three other locations in North America – two near Salt Lake City, Utah, and one near La Grande, Oregon.

Dr. Bennett and his colleagues Claudia and Darren Copley found the spider on Marion Creek Benchlands, a newly-established conservation area owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Perched on the hills above Columbia Lake, near the town of Fairmont Hot Springs, the property encompasses grasslands, open forests and wetlands, and is used by elk, deer and bear, among other, much smaller, wildlife.

“We knew Marion Creek Benchlands was an important wildlife corridor for large animals that cross the valley, as well as endangered species such as badger and Lewis’s woodpecker,” said Hillary Page, a Stewardship Coordinator with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “But when we went in and did our biological survey we discovered so much more.”

Other rare species found on the property include two provincially at-risk plants and a nationally-threatened fish species.

“This really affirms the importance of conservation science,” said Page. “When we take a closer look at the land we protect we always find something else that is interesting and biologically important.“

The spider is now enshrined in the Royal BC Museum’s collection.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is currently working to protect another property across Columbia Lake from Marion Creek Benchlands.  For more information or to find out how to help, visit


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