Field of Science

Metavononoides: Retreating from the Coast

I've commented before on the taxonomic issues bedevilling the study of South American harvestmen, particularly members of the diverse family Cosmetidae. Recent years have seen researchers make gradual but steady progress towards untangling these multifarious snarls by more firmly establishing the identities of this family's many genera.

Metavononoides guttulosus photographed by P. H. Martins, from Kury & Medrano (2018).

The genus Metavononoides was established by Roewer in 1928 for two species from south-eastern Brazil. As with other Roewerian genera, its definition was not exactly robust, being based on a combination of tarsal segment count together with the presence of a pair of large spines on the dorsal scutum. The genus was later re-defined by Kury (2003) who used it for a group of species found in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest region around Rio de Janeiro. Members of this group shared a number of distinctive features including the presence of a distinctive U-shaped marking (later dubbed a 'lyre mask' or 'lyra')on the scutum. A number of species previously placed in other genera were transferred to Metavononoides, and the next few years saw the description of a couple more species in the genus. And then Paecilaema happened.

The genus Paecilaema was first established by C. L. Koch in 1839 but a poor description of its type species P. u-flavum lead to confusion about its identity. Over time, Paecilaema became associated with a large number of species over a range stretching from Mexico to Brazil (as an aside, it doesn't help matters that Paecilaema has been one of those names that taxonomists have found themselves chronically uncertain how to spell). When Kury & Medrano (2018) recently set out to determine the exact identity of Paecilaema by determining that of its type, they fixed P. u-flavum as a species that was common around Rio de Janeiro and that corresponded to one of the species included by Kury (2003) in Metavononoides. As a result, many of the species shifted by Kury (2003) into Metavononoides were shifted once again into Paecilaema. Many of the species assigned to Paecilaema from outside the Atlantic Forest Region remain unrevised but will almost certainly prove to require re-classification.

Metavononoides barbacenensis photographed by P. H. Martins, from Kury & Medrano (2018).

Metavononoides was not outright synonymised with Paecilaema, though. Among the group of species possessing the aforementioned lyra on the scutum, Kury & Medrano (2018) identified two distinct subgroups. In one, corresponding to Paecilaema, the lyra is made up of two components. Part of the lyra is composed of light coloration on the plane of the scutum itself while another part is raised granules. In some species, these granules are particularly concentrated along the margins of the lyra (you can see an example on this on Flickr, photographed by Mario Jorge Martins; though labelled Metavononoides, this individual is now identifiable as Paecilaema u-flavum). In the second subgroup, corresponding to Metavononoides, the differentiated coloration on the plane of the scutum is absent and the lyra is composed solely of raised granules. Not only are the two genera morphologically distinct, they are also more or less geographically distinct. Whereas Paecilaema is found in the moist broadleaf forests closer to the coast, Metavononoides is now restricted to species largely found in the grasslands and shrublands further inland, corresponding to the Cerrado region. Though more depauperate of species than it was before, the identity of Metavononoides is certainly firmer.


Kury, A. B. 2003. Annotated catalogue of the Laniatores of the New World (Arachida, Opiliones). Revista Ibérica de Aracnología, special monographic volume 1: 1–337.

Kury, A. B., & M. Medrano. 2018. A whiter shade of pale: anchoring the name Paecilaema C. L. Koch, 1839 onto a neotype (Opiliones, Cosmetidae). Zootaxa 4521 (2): 191–219.

Roewer, C. F. 1928. Weitere Weberknechte II. II. Ergänzung der: "Weberknechte der Erde", 1923. Abhandlungen der Naturwissenschaftlichen Verein zu Bremen 26 (3): 527–632, 1 pl.


  1. Are these the cutest harvestmen?

  2. Hey, Chris: I loved your telling the tale from your point of view. It is refreshing to see a familiar story through the eyes of somebody else. Good job.


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