An eccentric Brit has spent 10 years and £30,000 scouring the world’s jungles to find the first newly-recorded species of tarantula in 120 years – after it dropped at his feet.
Determined Mark Pennell, 50, used to be frightened of the creepy crawlies but became obsessed with them after adopting one as a pet to conquer his fear.
He has since owned more than 300 and decided to find his very own species – spending every spare penny for a decade travelling to far-flung jungles.
Mark eventually focused his efforts on the Sarawak region of Borneo after hearing rumours from locals about a previously unknown bright blue tarantula.
He battled 100 per cent humidity and deadly snakes as he hunted it for a year – but the spider remained elusive.
But on his final trip with best friend Dean Hewlett, 51, he found the tree-dwelling tarantula when it dropped to the jungle floor in front of him being wrestled by a giant wasp.
Amazed Mark brought the spider home, where it was analysed by experts and named Phormingochilus pennellhewletti – combining Mark and Dean’s surnames.
The find has now been officially recognised as the first newly-recorded species of tarantula since 1895.
Mark, a tattoo artist from Bristol, said: “I couldn’t believe it.
“After trekking across jungles, constantly looking out for it, getting guides to climb trees, building ladders to climb trees, it just feel into my lap.
“It was our first day there and we just went out for a bit of a walk to see the sunset because we had a big expedition planned the next day.
“I heard this buzzing near my ear and a saw a shadow across my face and then a thud at my feet and there was a wasp with a three-inch long body dragging a large bodied tarantula across the ground.
“I stood on the wasp, grabbed the spider, flipped it over and finally realised this was the missing link. It was amazing. We’d finally done it.”
Dad-of-one Mark embarked on his first trek to find a new spider in 1999 and has traveled to Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
He then recruited his friend Dean, a carpenter, and the pair narrowed their search to the same area in Borneo after hearing about a possible new species.
A local man found the male version of the spider in an outhouse in 2007, and made contact with Mark, who asked him to keep it safe and alive until he visited a few months later.
Married Mark confirmed the spider – which has a five inch span – was a new species, but experts need both the male and female versions to be 100 per cent sure, so Mark and Dean’s quest continued.
The pair failed to find the creature during a visit the following year, but in 2009 found the female, which is an inch larger, on a walk.
They took the animal, which died due to the wasp sting, back to experts in England, who took until this year to confirm it was a new species.
It has been donated to a museum in Sarawak who have put it on display.
It was officially named in a paper in the Journal of the British Tarantual Society 2015 Volume 30, number 3.
Mark added: “I feel very proud to have a tarantula named after us.
“I’ve just set up my own tattoo business so at the moment I don’t have time to go back out to Borneo, but I’ll be back there soon enough.”