From the depths of an island group situated 30 kilometers off the northeastern coast of Quezon where locals find themselves most of the time farming and fishing, there lies a hole -- literally in the ground -- where hundreds of creepy crawlies make their home.

Known for its rich and often unique flora and fauna, the Polillo Island group plays host to rare and threatened wildlife and is considered as a key conservation hotspot for land and sea biodiversity.

In Burdeos town in the main island, Sitio Puting Bato has five limestone caves with outskirts facing the West Philippine Sea. Near inaccessibility plays a big role why the caves and its inhabitants are undisturbed; a perfect dream of wildlife biologists everywhere.

Inaccessibility makes it worthwhile

Undeterred by twelve long hours of travel by land and sea, researchers from the UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH) has made it an unwritten pact to go back to Puting Bato. Despite being stuck in muddy roads for hours, patiently waiting for the occasional outrigger boat, and the temporary loss of contact with loved ones, people from the Museum positively consider Puting Bato’s inaccessibility as the reason for its intactness.

Having visited the place in 2012 and 2013, this group of scientists along with their gang of student volunteers have unanimously declared this site as a “haven of rich biodiversity” after they observed and recorded several species of amphibians, reptiles, bats, fungi and bacteria during and after their collection trips.

But most noteworthy among the finds in Puting Bato was a tarantula which MNH entomologists found crawling and living on the floors, walls and even the ceilings of Puting Bato Caves.

New tarantula found

Tarantulas are hairy spiders almost the size of a kid’s fist which can live very long by staying in deep burrows, roadside slopes and canals and mountain trails. They are also known as bird-eating or baboon spiders and may also dwell inside caves to prey on insects and even small birds.

From Polillo’s Puting Bato cave complex, researchers have recently described a new tarantula. The species description has been reported in the latest issue of the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology.

MNH curators for spiders Dr. Aimee Lynn B. Dupo and Dr. Alberto T. Barrion, along with former student Joseph B. Rasalan described and named it Phlogiellus kwebaburdeos – an epithet combining the words describing its habitat and type locality.

“Rasalan discovered the tarantula during one of his cave ecology studies which was funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines,” Dupo explained.

As of date, 15 species of Phlogiellus have been described throughout South- and Southeast Asia and New Britain only four species occur in the Philippines, namely, P. baeri (Manila), P. bundokalbo (Siniloan, Laguna and Real, Quezon), P. insularis (Luzon or Basilan island) and P. mutus (Samar Island).

According to the discoverers, this cave-dwelling spider represents the fifth and sixteenth species of Phlogiellus reported in the Philippines and in southland Southeast Asia, respectively.

Currently, Philippine-tarantulas comprise only 11 species or 1.06% of the world’s total. Dupo, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines Los Banos’ Institute of Biological Science recognizes that Philippine fauna is clearly poorly studied and more intensive research is needed to properly document the true nature of tarantula diversity in the country.

More reason to protect Polillo’s caves

The presence of several threatened species and endemic species of cave-inhabiting fauna in Puting Bato is already a reason for resounding a call for conservation measures.

P. kwebaburdeos according to the researchers is of particular importance in the protection of Polillo’s caves. “While most of its cousins inhabit just the forest floor, P. kwebaburdeos exhibits an unusual habit of colonizing the cave and should be further studied,” the researchers said.

“Caves are easily exposed to anthropogenic activities such as pollution and vandalism because there are usually unprotected,” Dupo relayed in an interview. Tarantulas, according to the researchers are very good bioindicators and their presence or absence inside Puting Bato can indicate disturbances and degradation of habitats.

Tarantulas are narrow endemic species in the Philippines and much attention is needed to protect them from poachers who sell them as household pets through underground circles. “The Philippine Cave Law should be strongly implemented in Polillo because several of its caves possess high biological value,” Dupo said.


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