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Last Updated: Wednesday October 21 2009 17:54 GMT

'Giant' orb web spider discovered

Orb-weaviing spider Nephila inaurata
Orb-weaving spiders can spin webs of up to 1m

Scientists have discovered a new and very rare 'giant' spider in Africa and Madagascar.

Researchers say the 'Nephila komaci' spider is believed to be the largest orb - web spinner known to science. It can spin webs about one-metre wide.

Only the females are giants, with a leg length of about 12cm. The male spiders are very small in comparison.

The find may help scientists study just why some female spiders are so much bigger than male ones.

Orb-weaving spiders are fairly well-known and get their name from the round webs that they spin.

Exctinct

The new spider was identified by Dr Matjaz Kutner, a biologist from the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and Jonathan Coddington, from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

Male and female Nephila komaci spiders
Male and female Nephila komaci spiders

Dr Kutner first identified the spider from a collection belonging to the Plant Protection Research Institute in South Africa in 2000.

"It did not match any described species," said Dr Kuntner.

In his search through more than 2,500 samples from 37 museums, no further specimens turned up and he assumed the spider must be extinct.

But when a colleague in South Africa found three more of the spiders, it became apparent that they belonged to this same new species.

There are fears that the rare spider might be endangered.