There was a lot of head-scratching going on when a young scientist first stumbled on what looked like a tiny replica of Stonehenge in 2013 in the jungles of Peru.
He posted a photo of the curious mini constructions on Reddit, but no one seemed to have any idea how or why they were erected — until now.
Nicknamed “Silkhenges” because of their similarity to the enigmatic stone monument in England, the intricate circular fences surround a small white tower, all made of silk, and were mysterious enough to prompt an expedition to try to decipher their purpose.
Scientists Phil Torres and Aaron Pomerantz explored the wilderness of Yasuni National Park in Ecuador in search of clues. They brought back one of the silken structures to the lab, and then things got even stranger: Out of the spire hatched a peculiar, orange spiderling.
But what kind of spider was it? The baby spider didn’t completely solve the mystery; it only provided some new evidence. A spiderling is too small and undeveloped to identify by its physical characteristics, so Pomerantz and Torres instead sent its DNA to a lab for a barcode test.
That wasn’t successful either — the tests only revealed an 86% match to other species in the database, which could mean either that (a) it’s a completely new species of spider, or (b) that it’s a spider whose DNA has not yet been cataloged in the database.
Until Torres and Pomerantz can successfully raise the spiderlings into adulthood, Silkhenge will remain a mystery, and scientists will continue to wonder what species of spider builds them and why they create such elaborate structures to hatch their young.