Until Mark Wong recently flipped over a rock in Tallaganda State Forest in New South Wales, Australia, it had been just another day of looking at spiders. Then, the ecologist spotted the burrow of Atrax sutherlandi, a funnel-web spider.
“I began poking at it with a stick, and I was amazed at what came rushing out at me. The first thing that caught my eye was the red fang,” says Wong.
Normally, A. sutherlandi has a glossy black back and fang, as well as a deep-brown or plum underbelly. The spider that sprung from the burrow, however, had a blood-red belly and fang.
Wong knew immediately that he had made an once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
“I had never seen a funnel-web spider with those colors before”—and it turns out no one else had, either, says Wong, a National Geographic Young Explorer and Ph.D. student at the Australian National University in Canberra.
It’s very common for individual animals, even spiders, to have different colors, says Amber Beavis, a spider expert and senior researcher at the Regional Australia Institute, an independent think tank in Canberra.
“There’s more variation than you might think,” Beavis says. But the red-fanged spider struck her as a particularly unusual find.