Tag Archive: webnesday


every once in a while i like to dedicate webnesday to audience participation – the cool spiders and associated stories, photos and stuff that people have sent/given me or alerted me to.  webnesday thrives on these, so thanks to everyone who has contributed – 8-legged hugs to all of you!  since christmas (and the last time i posted about my spider stuff), i’ve been accumulating a nice collection of, hmm, arachnidiana? … and tucking away useful photos and links for later, so let’s get started!
first, in the interweb category, a few pretty spectacular news stories have turned up.  there’s this artistic giant tunnel-web made of packing tape, for one.  there’s also this wicked gallery of spider robots (with videos!) from wired.com.
in the photo submissions category, a friend sent me the two spiders below – his cousin (k. bache) shot these beauties while traveling in siem reap.

Nephila pilipes 1
i was pretty sure of the genus on this one, since it looked like other Nephila species i’d featured here before (N. clavata from japan, and this one – not for the faint of heart!).  the pattern on the abdomen identified it as N. pilipes – here’s a closer look.

Nephila pilipes 2
the second spider was a little trickier to ID, but the zig-zag bands in the web helped tremendously.

turns out they’re characteristic of the genus Argiope, and are called stabilimenta.  they reflect UV light and may function at least partially to make the web visible to large, blundering animals (like us) that might otherwise walk through it and ruin the spider’s hard work.  a few other genera also make them (including my friend Gasteracantha), although not quite like this.
this little guy and his attached red mite came from my dad, at the lake in northern mn.  no idea about an ID yet, but i’ll keep an eye out for him and his cousins while i’m there in a few weeks!

moving on to the arachno-goodies category, 2010 has been a good year for spider items (spidems?).  i got a swatch of this sparkly fabric in my christmas stocking:

and was given this cleverly crafted bead-spider by tomboy:

and then lucked out myself, in finding this irresistible brooch (complete with jeweled knees!).

the color didn’t show up so well, but the sparklies are three shades of green, fading along the length of the abdomen.  it’s one of my favorite accessories at the moment.
and finally, although i cannot claim to actually have this in my possession, here is a beast that occasionally parks outside our house (belonging to a friend of the neighbors’) – a porsche spyder.  that would probably make my little collection complete enough to get out of the business all together… so let’s hope i never get one.  seems pretty unlikely anyway  ;)

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some weeks, this feature pretty much writes itself.  last week’s katipo was inspired by current events, but rarely has a specific webnesday subject presented itself as irrepressibly as this one.
back in march, we did a lovely five-hour hike along the west coast of auckland, north of the waitakere ranges, which will be the subject of a separate post with many more photos.  one of the things we – well, maybe i, and the others mostly from the fact that i kept stopping to take photos – noticed was the great abundance of nursery-webs in the shrubs.  the webs look like this, and really did appear in astonishing density.

according to the forsters, these are the nursery-webs of Dolomedes minor (family Pisauridae), close relatives of the forest-and-stream-dwelling D. aquaticus and ‘D. species III’ earlier featured here (actually, i just discovered that i never got around to ‘D. species III’ – stay tuned!).  they mention that the females, after carrying their large egg-sacs around for about five weeks, construct these tents for the spiderlings to hatch into (actually, they hatch inside the egg-sac about a week before the web is built, but remain within it until contained within the nursery-web).  the females then remain with the webs for a further week, hiding somewhere below during the day but often on the web itself at night and visible by flashlight (how i wanted to take this hike again with a flashlight… !).
imagine my surprise, then, when over the past weekend, on another walk on the central plateau, a pristine nursery-web caught my eye and proved occupied, in broad daylight!

i suspect that this female may have been lured into the open by the prospect of a large meal, although i couldn’t get close enough to tell who her hapless dinner had been (other than an almost equally large spider).  in any case, i was very excited to be able to pair up these D. minor photos with the web-photos from the earlier walk.
and then the pebbles sent me an email from work, saying that one of his colleagues had found an enormous spider in his laptop bag (thanks, allan!) and that another colleague had trapped it – in her cupped hands, no less – and saved it for me (thanks, nat!).  they tentatively identified it as ‘nursery-web,’ and sure enough… look who it was.

isn’t she stunning?  i can’t really explain what she was doing in a computer bag, but i’m very glad she turned up there, particularly since the pebbles’ colleagues are both kind-spirited and well aware of my arachnophilia.  :)  after her photo session, and after turning down a large dinner offering (not sure whether she was just tired of being in a box, or not hungry, or whether the offering was perhaps a bit too big – it went to feed my sister’s axolotls in the end), she was released into our garden under cover of darkness.  i followed her explorations with a flashlight for a few minutes (recommended by the forsters, after all), and was amazed to see that when she was facing the light, even from a distance of 1-2 meters, i could see pinpricks of light reflecting from her eyes.  i had read about a similar effect in lycosids (“torchlight is reflected by a special layer of crystalline cells called a tapetum at the back of their eyes,” p. 81), but while not actually discounting it, had wanted to see it sometime for myself.  and i have to say, seeing spider eyes glowing in the dark ranks pretty high on the list of cool spider revelations that webnesday has brought me in its time.  here are a few more parting pics:

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i’ve been planning a katipo edition for some time, but so far it’s always been pushed aside in favor of other flashier, hairier beasts.  this seems to be in keeping with the katipo’s nature – it’s apparently a shy-ish spider, seldom encountered unless one is frolicking in the sand dunes, and even then unlikely to bite except in defense.  being a member of the genus Latrodectus, and thus cousin to the black widow (L. mactans), its bite can be quite severe – in fact, it’s new zealand’s only native, truly poisonous spider – but in order to be bitten, you’d pretty much have to be rolling around naked near, or through, its web.  and since it’s endangered, you’d probably still have to be pretty unlucky to encounter one.  plus, only the females can bite humans, so the chances are reduced by an additional 50%.

well… the time has come for the katipo’s moment of fame, because guess what happened recently (no photos, sorry).  you thought those circumstances were far-fetched, right?  he probably did too, right up until he awoke in the throes of latrodectism and went off to a 16-day stay in the hospital.  they never found the spider, but if they had, it would have looked like this – quite lovely, actually.  (photo modified from wikipedia)

the katipo, in addition to being shiny, endemic and endangered, is one of the ‘nicer’ members of the genus.  although it may have several insects hanging in the larder at any one time, its courtship is quite civilised, compared to some of the other species, like the australian redback (L. hasselti), where the female eats the male during or after copulation two thirds of the time.  after a polite, non-predatory encounter, the female katipo creates five or six eggsacs over about a month, hanging them under a dome-shaped web that eventually becomes covered in (and camouflaged by) sand.

like other rare, endemic new zealand fauna, the katipo has loaned its name and image to a number of nz businesses and organizations, including a film company, a book collective and a very cool cafe.

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“Gladys!  Come in – it’s so good to see you.  It’s been far too long.  You look wonderful – how are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine, Eleanor, fine.  Lovely to see you, too.  Sorry I’m a bit late – the storm yesterday blew one of those old trees down, right onto the main dragline, and they had to cut that section out and re-build it.  Gosh, the place looks great!  Are these new tuffets?”

“Yes, what do you think?  We were a bit worried about the colour – ordered them on the web.  But I think they fit in all right, don’t you?”

“Yes, they look great!  Ooh, and just the right height.  Plump enough to be comfy, but perfect for keeping a claw on the floor for vibrations.”

“Can I take your palp-bag?  And would you like some tea?”

“Oh, I’ll just stow it over here out of the way, if you don’t mind.  Just in case my phone goes – I’m expecting a call from Robbie’s OT sometime today.”

“Sure, sure – is everything all right?”

“Well, yes… you know, they’re both going through this rapid-moult phase at the moment.  Tina got a leg stuck last time and was home by herself, poor thing, and she’d worked herself into a panic by the time we got home – almost pulled the leg off herself, but we managed to get her out.  Well, I think Robbie got a little scare, so his latest moult went a little more quickly than usual, but then when he got out, he just didn’t flex his legs enough before they hardened… ”

“Oh, dear…”

“So yes, he’s walking a bit stiffly for now.  We’ve told him it will all be normal again after the next moult (and I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again!), but you know how it is – he feels awkward about it, and I’m sure the other kids laugh, so we’ve taken him to see an OT to see whether we can loosen up the joints at least a little in the meantime.”

“Ah.  Well, I’m sure it will be fine, and as you say, the next moult should fix everything anyway.  Sorry, did you want tea?”

“Oh, yes, thank you, I’d love some!”

“I’ve got some fresh beetle-bars too, if you’d like to try one?”

“I really shouldn’t, but your baking’s always so divine…”

“Oh, go on, there’s nothing really bad in there.  As if you need to worry about that tiny waist!”

“Well, all right then, thanks.  New recipe?”

“Yes, it’s from my old standby, Just Good Grubs. You know, I’ve made so many things from that book, but never noticed this one before – and I have to say, I wish I’d found it sooner!”

“Ooooh, yes, just the right crunch – do you use fresh wings, or dried?”

“Well, the recipe calls for dried, but I only had fresh – I did throw them in the oven for a little while to brittle them up first.”

“Well, they’re delicious.  Can I have the recipe?”

“Of course!”

“So, how’s everything with you?”

“Oh, well, can’t complain, really.  I did lose a contact last week, but I’ve got a new one on order.”

“Oh, not too inconvenient in the meantime, I hope?”

“No – it was one of the rear ones, and they’re almost the same size as the front four, so I just moved one of those around – I find it less distracting to have three in the front than just one at the back.  And the large ones are the most important, of course.”

“Still, a bit of a bother.  Have you got any spares?”

“Well, I did, but then I found out Rosie had taken my last one and used it to trap and watch humans with – like a little observation dome.  She has a bit of a fascination, I’m afraid, but it really was rather clever – she showed me.  She just drops it over one of the small ones and they’re perfectly trapped underneath.  She can photograph them and everything!  Of course, I couldn’t exactly wear it after that.”

“No, of course.  So… you still have a few humans around?”

“Yes… especially now that it’s getting colder.  It’s not exactly an infestation, but there do seem to be more of them inside in the winter.  One the one hand, I don’t really mind – they do help to keep the pigeons under control, I suppose – but I’d rather not see them all over the place.  They’re just a little, you know, creepy.”

“I know – I think it’s the way they move, so jerkily.  Just not enough legs!”

“Yes, exactly.  And not enough joints.  Ugh.  I did consider installing one of those intermittent humanicide-sprayers up in one corner, but it’s bad for the fish tank and I’m not sure it’s entirely safe for the kids either, whatever the adverts say.  I’m getting better with humans, anyway.  I don’t go out of the way to kill them any more – Rosie has a fit, she always wants me to call her so she can put them outside – and they do tend to leave a nasty red smear when you smash them.  But, well, I don’t mind saying, if they get in the way when I’m vacuuming, I’m afraid I can’t be held responsible.  Their nets do look so messy, and you know, sometimes the pigeons hang there for days – so unsightly.  But at least I don’t wash them down the sink anymore.”

“Well, that’s good.  I don’t really like to have them around either, especially with the kids – they’re going through a phase where they’ll try biting anything, and the human adults get so territorial – I know they’re not usually dangerous, but I just don’t like to think of their pointy little sticks coming anywhere near the kids’ faces, you know?  Especially the hairy ones – I think they’re the females?  We almost had a disaster the other day, in fact; I caught Tina playing with a small human, just as the adult came running over – well, I’ll admit, my mothering instincts kicked in and I stepped on it.  And then Tina claimed I’d caused the rain the next day!”

“Funny myth, that one.  I wonder where it came from.”

“No idea.  Perhaps it’s distantly related to that ‘Itsy-bitsy human’ song?”

“Yes, perhaps.  Interesting how rhymes and legends get passed down like that – everyone knows them but no one knows who spun them first or why.”

“Yes, odd, isn’t it.  Say, what kind of tea is this?  It’s delicious.  And how’s your sister?”

“Oh, you like it?  It’s a cicada-peppermoth blend.  I bought it on a whim and I have to say, I’m rather fond of it too.  Judith is well – busy with the wedding planning, as you can imagine.  Some new drama every time we talk.  She’s taken it into her head now that she doesn’t want to wear silk.”

“Really?  Why not?”

“Thinks it will look too home-made, or some such nonsense.  I told her not to be ridiculous – after all, there are at least nine different kinds of silk, and I’m sure the designers are always developing more!  How can she just dismiss them all?  I even suggested silk worms – such a lovely texture, and of course they’re delicious when the job’s done! – but she wasn’t having any of it.”

“Well… good luck to her.  I’ll be interested to hear what she comes up with in the end.”

“Yes, although she’s got plenty to think about besides her wedding.  Have you heard about those ‘vegetarians’ in Central America?”

“Vege-what?”

“There’s this tribe that’s just been discovered, with the strangest eating habits. They mostly eat some kind of plant protein nodule – a few ant larvae on the side, but mostly, these nodules.  It’s just not natural.  And now, Judith’s daughter Beth has decided that she wants to be ‘vegetarian’ too.  Judith is worried sick that she’ll be undernourished and never reach her final moult.”

“Goodness.  What’s she eating at the moment?”

“Well, not very much.  First she insisted on what she called ‘quick-kill’ food – nothing bitten and left hanging to liquefy for a few days, you know?  Someone at school put this ‘insect rights’ business into her head.  For a while she was campaigning against storage cocoons – honestly, we all know they just go to sleep, or at least I’ve never seen one wriggling longer than a few hours – but she was marching around, wearing buttons that said ‘GL bugs me’ (‘GL’ is for gradual liquefaction, Judith informs me), but now she just wants to order this plant protein and give up her natural diet entirely.  Judith is at her wits’ end – she’s starting to pull her bristles out over it.”

“Let’s hope it’s just a phase.  Perhaps when some nice boy brings her his first offering, she’ll reconsider.”

“Yes, that’s what my mother said.”

“Oh, how is June?”

“Oh, she’s all right – getting a bit grumbly, worried about small things, the usual.  She’s afraid her eyesight will fail and she won’t be able to keep her web tidy enough for the neighbours’ tastes (or to avoid the neighbours’ tastes, I should say) .  And she still has rheumatism – mostly in the coxa-trochanter joint, she says, but I think it’s all stiffening up a little.”

“Well, at least she’s around to see her grandchildren.”

“True.  As long as they don’t sneak up on her – she’s less sensitive to vibrations now, but once she knows something’s there, there’s nothing wrong with her bite.  Although she’s convinced her venom is weakening, of course.”

“Poor old dear.”

“Yes, but that’s enough about my tribe!  You mentioned Tina and Robbie, but how’s Morrie?”

“Oh… he’s fine.”

“Wait, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing… I… no really, he’s all right.”

“Well, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but if you need to get anything off your sternum, you know I won’t tell anyone.”

“I know, El.  It’s just hard to talk about, but maybe I’ll feel better.   He… well.  Rosie’s almost as big as he is now, and although he’s really good with her, I think he’s starting to get a little nervous.  And since the accident, you know, he only has the one palp left – I think it looks rather rakish, actually – but he just seems to have lost confidence in himself.  It’s like he’s worried he’s not good enough anymore, like he thinks I’ll turn on him one day and just eat him, like some kind of monster.  It breaks my heart – I get an actual pain, all the way down my abdomen, just thinking about it.  He’s the gentlest male I’ve ever met, El, but he’s always had that quiet strength, and to see that ebb away… I just don’t know what to do.”

“This is going to sound harsh, Gladys, but have you thought about doing the kind thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you have Rosie, and she’s such a darling.  And if I read your appetite right, you’ve got another sac in the making, am I right?”

“Well, yes – is it that obvious?”

“Not to just anyone, but we’ve been friends a long time, Gladys.  Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thanks, sorry, I should have known you’d know.  Sorry I didn’t tell you outright.”

“Don’t worry, I can see you have other things on your mind.  So, have you considered the fact that one day, he might leave in the morning, and just never come back?”

“Oh, he would never run off, El, never!”

“Yes, but a small male, with one palp left and low confidence… someone could just take him.  I know it’s hard to think about.  It’s ok, let it out – here, would you like a lacewing?  They’re quite absorbent.”

“Thanks.”

“Of course.  So, all I’m saying is… you have a family already, and you’ve had such good times together… maybe you should think about… whether he wouldn’t rather that someone just be you.”

“How awful – I can’t even think about it!”

“Well, all right then, don’t, if it’s that upsetting.  Maybe things will get better.  I’ve heard that loss of a palp can cause depression, but that sometimes the post-recovery results are… pleasantly surprising, if you know what I mean?”

“Actually, that seems to be true…”

“Oh, really?  That’s wonderful!  Well, maybe all you need to do is gently suggest that he spend more time at home?  I’m sure you could suggest it in a way that would make it appealing – a little wiggle of the spinnerets would probably do it, you sly thing.”

“Oh, stop it, you’re terrible!”

“Well.  What did I say about that tiny waist, after all.  I hope you’ll forgive my suggestion earlier – I was only trying to help.  Hope I wasn’t too blunt.”

“No, it’s all right.  I know that some females are like that, but I just couldn’t.  But I know you were trying to be kind.”

“I was.  Are you all right now?  Would you like more tea?”

“No, I should be scuttling off, actually.  I need to pick up some cabbage moths on the way home – they’re Morrie’s favourite.  Unpleasant after-effects, of course, but it’s still nice enough to sit outside the tunnel after dinner, thank goodness.”

“Oh, you’re too good to him.”

“I know, but I can’t help it.  He’s such a sweetie.  Say, I know he’d love to see you – would you like to come around to our place next week?  Same time?  This is such a lovely tradition – we should keep it up.”

“Well, sure.  I’ll check Rosie’s schedule – she’s moving to the next level of artistic weaving, but maybe not until week-after-next.  I could bring that recipe along, if you like.”

“Oh, perfect, thanks!  Only if it’s not too much trouble to copy it out?  You have such lovely, spidery writing.  And that’s wonderful for Rosie.  She’s so talented – takes after her mother.”

“Now, stop it.  Did you get your bag?  Good.  Shoo, now, you old flatterer, and give Morrie a big hug for me – four legs’ worth.  I hope he keeps improving, and in the meantime, well, enjoy yourselves!”

“We will – don’t leer at me like that, you’ll give me the giggles.  Thanks again for tea, it was gorgeous.  Hi to Robbie and Tina.”

“Sure – wait, isn’t it Rosie’s birthday soon?  Maybe we’ll get her a human farm.”

“Oh, don’t!  You’ll only encourage her.  But nice of you to think of it.”

“All right then, take care, now, and I’ll see you again next week.  I’ll drop you a line in a few days to confirm.  Watch out for that sticky patch on the left – I had to refresh it this morning and it’s still a bit gluey.  Rosie’s supposed to do it as part of her chores – it’s her end of the deal for the weaving classes – but it doesn’t always get done.”

“Ah, kids.  Well, as they say, ‘fangs again.’ I’ll keep a few eyes out for something tasty for next week.  See you then!”

“You’re most welcome, and feel ‘flea’ any time.  Ta-ta, Gladys.”

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this week, my career as an arachnophile reached new heights.  people are now bringing me spiders.  i got a text on easter morning from a friend coming over later, along the lines of ‘found a horrifying, slavering eight-legged monster in the bedroom, chewing on the last remains of the family dog.  should i bring it to you?’  well, what can you say to that except ‘hell yeah!’
so here she is – meet ‘night’ (or ‘knight’ if you ask the pebbles), christened by said friend’s toddler on the car ride over.

i don’t mind telling you, her ID led me a merry dance through the interweb and the pages of the forsters.  first i was happy calling her Miturga (a ‘prowling’ spider), because she closely matched an illustration in my nz spider bible.  but then i discovered some taxonomic upset about the Miturgidae and the earlier-featured Uliodon (which post i may have to revise shortly), so i did what i should have done first, which was to look at the eyes for some initial clues.

and bingo, that solved at least the family ID – Lycosidae for sure (‘wolf’ spiders), characterized by the front-most row of four small eyes, then the middle row of two large ones, then finally the back row of two more, posteriorly directed.  genus/species not so easy though… in fact, i think i have to leave it at ‘lycosid sp.’ unless someone really clever wants to chime in here and help me out.  i managed to find one other photo of what i think is the same species, but the page is a bit random and actually has no info about the photo.  sigh.

you will notice that night is busy having breakfast here.  this served two purposes – it only seemed fair to feed her after she spent the night in a jar (so balm for my conscience, i guess), plus it kept her obligingly still for her modeling session and gave me the chance to appreciate her bristly, kind of walrus-like face.
interestingly (spider fact of the week coming up!) i learned that the way i had always believed spiders to feed was incorrect – they don’t inject venom through the fangs, liquidizing the prey inside, and then suck the fluid back in through the fangs.  oops.  instead they pierce and/or crush it with the fangs, in addition to injecting venom, to soften it all up.  then they sort of lap/suck the fluids in through an actual mouth located behind the fangs, filtering the goo through two progressively fine sets of hairs along the way, which gets rid of the indigestible bits.  and this is exaclty what i observed with the fly i gave her; the forsters also describe it accurately thus (p. 82): ‘feeding begins while they prey is transfixed by the fangs.  depending on size it takes the spider 5 to 30 minutes to reduce an insect to the soggy little ball of indigestible crushed cuticle and wings that is dropped and left behind as its quest for further food continues.’  yes indeedy – no empty but recognizeable husk, just a tiny, slightly wet black ball of mashed fly bits.  yummy.
given her efficiency and good behavior, i liberated night under the house to take care of the many other tasty morsels i’m sure live down there.  i’ll let you know if she turns up for another visit.  ::::)

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hi.  it’s 3.12am (so technically webnesday!  ha!) and i am wide awake.  it’s been a crazy week that began with marking 70 first-year student essays and has moved on (alarmingly quickly) to organizing possible ownership of a more permanent web for myself and the pebbles.  thence the ‘mad’ portion of the title.  my brain apparently needs a break from itself, so as a nice respite from careening thoughts of material things and debt, i’ll introduce you to a new friend i made on friday.

this is Clubiona sp., a ‘hopping’ spider (family Clubionidae – a new one for this site!).  it hitched a ride on a student’s backpack during a field trip to the waitakere ranges, and i had ample time to photograph it during the extra 1:45 we spent waiting for the final (rather lost) group of students to emerge from the bush.  i had no idea what it was at the time, but it was photogenic and i figured i could find out later with the help of my (other) new friends, the forsters.

they were much more useful than wikipedia (or, as far as i can tell, the rest of the web – heh heh), a trend that i expect to continue as i read more of their excellent book.  here’s an excerpt from p. 106: “perhaps the most noticeable habit of many species of Clubiona is the way they move about on foliage.  every now and then the quick forward run is interrupted by a sudden hop.  this hopping is quite different from the ‘jump’ of jumping spiders because the body and legs just seem to rise up from the substrate while the spider itself does not more forward more than one or two body lengths, and then not in any particular direction.  perhaps the purpose of hopping is to deter or deceive would-be predators or other enemies.”  sadly, i did not observe this behavior, but i am very much looking forward to the later chapter on spider observation tips, which will hopefully suggest to me how to find another one that may do its trademark trick.

i did notice that this specimen was missing its left front leg and part of the right front, so i read up on leg loss. and here’s your spider fun fact for the week – ready?  legs that break off almost always break between the coxa and the trochanter (first and second segments), apparently a weak joint that readily gives way, hopefully allowing the spider to escape.  the local muscles contract quickly and the blood coagulates, so fluid loss is minimized; if the spider has time, it may even suck the juices out of the severed leg (i seriously hope no one stumbled on this site after googling that phrase) so that they are not lost.  and if the leg doesn’t break in the ‘correct’ location, the spider may pull off the remaining segments itself, sometimes using silk to anchor the too-long stump and then pulling away.  lost legs will usually regenerate within several molts, although not always in adult spiders.
and this book was officially the best $35 i have spent yet this year.  ::::)  (spider smiley!)

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i’ve had a few bits of spidery luck lately — saw a lovely big male vagrant (Uliodon sp.) over the weekend, was visited in the shower by a white-tail, and while i sat outside yesterday, a nice little coppery jumper threw a few lines of silk over my arm.  but today… today i hit the jackpot.

i almost made it out of a large book sale less than $40 poorer… but then there was this.  there i was, shuffling my thick but bargainous stack of imminent purchases from arm to arm, casting a cursory final glance over the table, when the heavens opened and a thread of gleaming golden silk dropped down to caress the shiny black cover.  i nearly dropped everything else i was carrying.

did you know about the stercoral chamber?  the malpighian tubules?  how about the thoracenteron?  me neither – but i will!  and look – recognize this?

i believe we’ve seen that behavior somewhere before!  and do we want to know more about jumping spiders?  ok then…

i might be just a tiny (dare we say ‘itsy bitsy’) bit in love with this book.  i might be trying really hard not to drool all over it.  and i might also be trying really hard not to just spew out nz spider facts and stats like some crazed Porrhothele with diarrhetic spinnerets.  (remember when i was trying to find the names of the different kinds of hairs on the legs?  got ’em!  setose, feathery, tenent!)  how am i doing?
on a sobering note, this does not bode well for my other current projects.  i’m part-teaching a course with 1400 students enrolled, knitting a beret, writing a book, finshing the revisions on my thesis for publication, and doing some free-lance editing.  but guess what.  there are ~2500 species of spider in new zealand and i want to read about them all!  i want to peruse barry webster’s beautiful drawings at leisure and go back to fix any inaccuracies i managed to relate in the earlier 42 episodes of webnesday!  i want to start a life-list of spiders and include a wish-list section!

in short, i want to spend the next several months like this:

WHO’S WITH ME?!

there’s been a slight drought of spider sightings lately, so once again i will tackle a beast i have not personally encountered (except dried in museums), but whose photo can be found amply splashed across the interweb.  i actually had a request from someone to feature this critter (someone who, i believe, checks out webnesday posts with a kind of horrified fascination – probably not alone), so here we go: the ‘camel spider,’ ‘wind scorpion’ (plus any of a host of other common names), or, more technically, solifugid.

(image courtesy of wikipedia, as usual)

this bulbous (and admittedly alarming-looking) beast, like a few other misunderstood groups i’ve featured here, actually belongs to its own order of arachnid, the Solifugae.  note that it appears to have ten ‘legs’ –  the front two, which are much larger than the other eight (the latter being the true legs), are actually the pedipalps.  other hallmarks are the enormous jaws (chelicerae), which are longer than the main part of the cephalothorax.  these are used for biting and tearing and can do a bit of damage due to their size and strength, but have not been proven to contain any venom.  (one study claimed to have identified venom in a single species, but has not been successfully replicated.)
the jaws also do not possess anaesthetic, as was rumored in emails about nasty solifugids in iraq – you may have seen these, usually accompanied by images like this.  the claims that they chew large holes in sleeping people (or camels), and some other amusing myths, are neatly dispelled by snopes; national geographic also had a bit to say about them.  the photo is authentic, but the solifugids are positioned much closer to the camera than they appear, giving a false impression of their size (max legspan about 5″ – considerable but not THAT big).
solifugids can run quite quickly, and apparently do have the startling habit of following moving animals in the desert.  however, this ‘chasing’ seems to be in pursuit of the shade cast by the panicking, would-be escapee, rather than an indicator of aggression on the solifugid’s part.  they eat invertebrates and lizards, some larger than themselves, but would not be likely to bite a person other than under duress.
as with most arachnids, some intrepid souls do import solifugids and keep them as pets.  they would not be at the top of my list, though (partly because of their short lifespan and resistance to captive breeding), and i can’t say i wouldn’t exit my sleeping bag quickly if i found a wild one like this sharing it with me.

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webnesday, episode 40 (friendly stranger edition)
welcome to another edition of ‘this is cool but i have no idea what it is.’ i found this little guy on the wall above our fishtank last week.  from a distance, it looked a little like Trite planiceps – similar size; vaguely similar shape; large, dark front legs.  but on closer inspection the abdomen, which is relatively larger and a different shape, looks flufflier and has a beautiful grass-green stripe running down the middle.  the front legs also appear a bit different and the jaws are shorter and more bulbous.  so for now, i will tentatively say ‘Trite sp.’ … i have sent a few draglines out into the nz spider world to see if anyone can name this beastie for me, and if they do, i’ll update it here.
in the meantime, hope you enjoy the pics – s/he was very friendly and even came in for a much closer look at me a few times (see videos at the end – sorry for the low quality, i’ve misplaced my better video camera for the moment).

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