One of the myriad arguments in favor of wilderness conservation is that we do not know what we are losing when wild places are lost to development. Case in point with this story and image via National Geographic newswatch service:
Six months ago, visitors to the Peruvian Amazon discovered a mysterious picket fence structure nicknamed Silkhenge. Despite watching the structure for several days, naturalists at the Tambopata Research Center couldn’t figure out what type of animal (or fungus) was building it.
When scientist Troy Alexander first announced his find, all he had to show for his discovery was a series of intriguing photographs. He had no idea what Amazonian critter could have created the circular hideaway with a spoke-like outer wall.
After consulting with several entomologists, Alexander hypothesized that it was likely built by a type of cribellate spider, which are known for building elaborate structures.
When we first posted news of the picket fence, readers flooded the blog with suggestions for what had built it and what scientists should name the potential new species. While many of you agreed with Alexander’s hypothesis that the fence was built by a spider, others of you weren’t so sure, guessing that a fungus or caterpillar may have built it.
In December, Tambopata scientist Phil Torres, who helped first discover the spider, along with University of Florida entomologists Lary Reeves and Geena Hill and photographer Jeff Cremer, returned to the small island where they had first found the small picket fences built on the sides of trees and tarps. For a week, they staked out the area, taking careful notes and watching the miniature structures very closely.
Along a 650-foot (200-meter) stretch of trail, the scientists identified 45 different picket fences. Their week of eagle-eyed watching paid off when they discovered spiderlings hatching from three of these fences. (See National Geographic’s spider videos.)
Read the whole article here.