Navel-Gazing

Here’s a new excuse…

My lovely wife Jo-anne has been in South America the last couple weeks doing field research on Argentine ants while I tend the home fires here in Tucson. I hope she finds it in her to forgive me for the post I am about to write.

Earlier today I got an email explaining why I’m not getting my much-awaited phone call:

I’d call but there aren’t any phones at this locutorio and we’re on our way out to look for social spiders.”

Excuse me? Social spiders? More important than me, your needy hubby?

Ok, I grant that social spiders are pretty cool, if a bit creepy. I remember those things from when I lived in South America. They spun massive webs that spanned tree-tops, anchored to the ground with tow lines as strong as steel cables. I nearly died from shock the first time I saw them. I had accidently walked under their tree, a large Enterolobium, and looked up to find the sky speckled with thousands of grape-sized spiders, all sharing a web tens of meters across. It still gives me the willies to think about.

A few years later I had a camera handy when a Paraguayan friend and I drove past what looked like a small body caught up in Shelob’s web. We stopped.

bolivar-contemplates-the-spiders.jpg

Turned out not to be a single body, but hundreds of little hairy bodies that had fastened several branches into a little cradle. Social spiders!

social-spiders.jpg

From close in:

a-nightmare-of-spiders.jpg

Social spiders are something of a mystery. They don’t share all the traits that have tipped the more famously social ants, bees, wasps, and termites into cooperative living. Yet it appears that nearly a dozen independent lineages of spiders have converged on a cooperative lifestyle. There must be something advantageous in it for the spiders, and that question continues to attract inquisitive scientists like Jo-anne.

Still, which do you think is better? Me? Or that twitching arachnoid mass of legs? And anyway, wouldn’t calling me be *safer* than going out looking for those things?

Things to come…

Light posting over the last couple days, I’m afraid. Our kitten Mingus came down with a little kitty fever this morning of 106º (That’s 41ºC for the Fahrenheit- impaired) and is spending the night in the pet hospital, enough of a distraction to derail my blogging schedule.

Don’t despair, though, there is freshy bloggy material on the way. I’ve been writing drafts on a number of photography topics in the background. Things to come include:

  • Image post-processing (what happens after a photo is taken)
  • The importance of backdrop
  • Photographing uncooperative insects
  • Cameras and lenses for macro

If there is any topic in particular you would like me to post about, email me or let me know in the comments below.

mingus1.jpg

Update (12/12/07): Mingus is back from the little kitteh hospital- he’s doing much better!

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Zut alors! This blog seems to have developed a following of Frenchmen. The shame of it is, I studied French for 5 years in High School and don’t remember a word of it.

The French ant-enthusiast forum Acideformik looks like a fine place to hang out on the intra-webs. Most online myrmecology forums are populated by 12 year-olds relating their experiences fighting red and black ants, or trying to trade in their allowance to import a colony of exotic bulldog ants (to kick the butts of both red and black ants, I gather). However, the French are over there having book discussions and contemplating the finer points of petiolar morphology. I’m jealous.