A group of Santa Monica College students have discovered a heretofore unidentified species of jumping spider during the launch of a comprehensive animal and plant inventory in Death Valley National Park.
The surprise discovery came September 29 when a group of about 30 SMC students in geography professor Bill Selby’s field studies course spent a few hours collecting spiders and ants in what was the first day of the National Park Service’s long-term inventory effort.
“For a community college, this is unusual,” Selby said. “New species of plants and animals are being discovered every day, but usually by researchers and graduate students, not folks like us.”
Selby recently got word from the National Park Service of the discovery, which came after specimens were sent to the University of New Mexico for identification. Scientists say it can take months or even years for a new species to be formally recognized by publication in a science journal.
“We expected that the inventory would uncover new species but SMC was the first group out on this study and for them to find what they did was quite unexpected,” said David Ek, assistant chief of resources management at Death Valley National Park.
Students – who broke up into 10 groups assigned to different areas ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet high – collected 21 spiders, representing 14 species. The group at the 4,000-feet elevation, in Emigrant Canyon, found the new species.
The students also collected 322 ants, representing 11 species, one of which had never been found in California before. In addition, a specimen collected near Stovepipe Wells Airport was identified as a species that was only recently discovered in similar habitat in San Bernardino County.
Ek said that the National Park Service will now send the new spider specimen to an expert entomologist to be described in scientific literature. The scientist will give the new species its name, following certain restrictions, guidelines, and protocols, he said.