Amblypygi. The Antillean (West Indian) fauna.
Although their impressive aspect may bring us to think that we are in front of terrible animals, the amblypygids or whip spiders (also known as tailless whip scorpions) are inoffensive to humans. This small arachnid order is represented in the Antillean or West Indian archipelago by two families, four genera and almost 30 species, mostly found in the Greater Antilles.
The arachnid order Amblypygi integrates, together with Schizomida and Thelyphonida, the superorder Pedipalpi. They are the closest relatives of true spiders (order Araneae), which all together conform the larger group Megoperculata.
Amblypygids or whip spiders are wide spread in the Caribbean islands, also known as the West Indies or Antilles. They are represented in this Central American archipelago by two families (Charinidae and Phrynidae), four genera (Charinus, Heterophrynus, Paraphrynus, Phrynus), and 33 species formally described.
Although their impressive aspect may bring us to think that we are in front of terrible animals, they are inoffensive to humans. In contrast with spiders, they have not venom glands. Instead, they have strong spinous pedipalps that help them with catching their preys, some of which, as the moths, they can grasp on the fly.
Whip spiders, sometimes called tailless whip scorpions because their general aspect resembles a vinegarroon or whip scorpion (order Thelyphonida) that has lost its telson or "tail", are commonly found in humid caves, as well as in forest and coastal areas mainly under stones; although, some species usually inhabit in human houses.
Taxonomic composition of the Antillean whip spiders
The Antillean amblypygid species belong to the following families and genera:
Order Amblypygi Thorell, 1883
FAMILY CHARINIDAE QUINTERO, 1986
- Genus Charinus Simon, 1891 (13 species).
FAMILY PHRYNIDAE BLANCHARD, 1852
- Subfamily Heterophryninae Pocock, 1902
- Genus Heterophrynus Pocock, 1894 (one species in Trinidad and Tobago).
-Subfamily Phryninae Blanchard, 1852
- Genus Paraphrynus Moreno, 1940 (3 species in Bahamas, and Cuba).
- Genus Phrynus Lamarck, 1801 (16 species).
Charinus is a very complex taxon with a cosmopolitan distribution, but most recent studies have shown that perhaps it represents more than one genus. It has been found in Cuba (6 species), Hispaniola, Jamaica, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saint-Barthelemy and Guadeloupe, each with one species. Unnamed species are also present in Cuba, Hispaniola (Greater Antilles) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Lesser Antilles).
Paraphrynus is largely a Mexican and Central American genus that has reached north of South America and the West Indies. In the Caribbean islands it is restricted to Cuba (three species) and Bahamas (one species shared with Cuba).
In the New World, Phrynus ranges from southern USA to Brazil, including the West Indies. It is the most diverse and widespread amblypygid genus in the Caribbean islands, where Phrynus marginemaculatus (Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Anguilla) is the most common amblypygid species.
Heterophrynus is a South American genus. Its presence in Trinidad and Tobago is not astonishing because these islands are both geologically and biogeographically part of the South American land.
Endemism and diversity
The only Antillean amblypygids that are not endemic of this archipelago are Phrynus marginemaculatus (also known from Florida, USA), Phrynus pulchripes (also found in Colombia and Venezuela), Phrynus barbadensis (also recorded from Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela), and Heterophrynus cheiracanthus (also found on the mainland).
On the other hand, each of the Antillean Charinusspecies is restricted to one island. Paraphrynus cubensis, Pa. robustus, Phrynus damonidaensis, Ph. noeli, Ph. pinarensis, and Ph. pinero are Cuban species, whereas Phrynus kennidae and Ph. levii are restricted to Hispaniola and Jamaica, respectively.
The most diverse amblypygid faunas are those of Cuba (2 families, 3 genera, 16 species), and Hispaniola (2 families, 2 genera, 8 species).
The only fossil whip spider described from the Antilles is Phrynus resinae. This species was described from Dominican amber and its general aspect resembles Phrynus marginemaculatus. Fragments of unidentified amblypygids have also been found in Dominican amber, a fossil resin of Early to Middle Miocene age.
Some interesting data of the Antillean whip spiders
: Heterophrynus cheiracanthius
, Paraphrynus robustus
, Phrynus armasi
, and Phrynus longipes
. These species reach up 35 mm, mainly in cave environment.
Smallest species: Charinus centralis (4.0-5.7 mm), and Charinus cubensis (4.5-5.0 mm).
Highest altitude: Paraphrynus robustus (1200 m), Phrynus hispaniolae and Ph. marginemaculatus (1100 m).
Greatest brood: 51 embryos, recorded for the Cuban species Paraphrynus robustus.
Troglobitic species: Charinus caribensis from Jamaica, Charinus tomasmicheli, from central Cuba, and Phrynus noeli from Western Cuba.
Parthenogetic species: Charinus acosta, from Cuba, is the only known amblypygid having all-female populations. The Greek population of Charinus ioanniticus is an all-female one, but a dioecious population of this species has been recorded from Turkey.
Exceptional preys: Freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium sp.) were caught by the giant whip spider Heterophrynus cheiracanthius in a Tobago river.
Intra-guild predation: The only known case of intra-guild predation involving Antillean whip spiders is that of Phrynus longipes predating on the Dominican Phrynus hispaniolae.
Necrophagia:: Three adult specimens of Paraphrynus robustus eating on two dead bats belonging to Phyllonycteris poeyi (Phyllostomidae) were observed and photographed into a cave in eastern Cuba. A previous case involving Phrynus longipes and a dead bat had been observed into a cave in the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola Island).
Vertebrates as prey: Phrynus longipes preys on frogs of the genus Eleutherodactylus and lizards of the genus Anolis. Also, an undetermined Cuban whip spider (perhaps Phrynus pinarensis) has been seen preying on Eleutherodactylus sp.
Parasites: Parasite larvae of prostigmate mites (family Erythraeidae, genus Leptus) were found on the carapace, pedipalps and legs of the Dominican whip spider Phrynus kennidae.
Predators: The only recorded predator of the Antillean amblypygids is the Cuban insectivore Solenodon cubanus, which preys on Paraphrynus robustus.
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