Sunday Night Movie: David Attenborough Toys with a Trapdoor Spider

From the BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth:

If you like trapdoor spiders, this past year may have been the best ever: arachnologist Jason Bond recently quintupled the number of known species in North America.

Of course, with the discovery of many new species comes the related depressing discovery that many of them are in imminent danger of extirpation. Sigh.

(source: http://www.pensoft.net/journals/zookeys/article/3588/abstract/ )

Richard Bradley’s “Common Spiders of North America”

csonaEvery few years a field guide emerges with artwork so stunning the book is worth owning regardless of whether you plan to identify anything with it. Richard Bradley’s Common Spiders of North America (U.C. Press, 2013; $60) is just such a book. Buy it. You won’t regret it.

Each of the 82 color plates, created by illustrator Steve Buchanan, could be hung on the wall as standalone pieces. They are masterful, clean, and composed to easily discern diagnostic differences among similar species. The book even feels classy. Weighty, solid, consequential.

The text covers an introduction to arachnid biology, keys to larger spider groups, and cursory accounts of 469 commonly-encountered animals. Common Spiders won’t help with every species. After all, North America is home to at least 3,500 described spiders, so this book only touches 15% of the fauna. The specialist will still rely on technical literature. But if you are a general naturalist looking to put a name on the creatures you find around the house and garden, Bradley & Buchanan’s artful tome will serve beautifully.

Enough with the praise, though. This wouldn’t be a Myrmecos post if I didn’t find something to grumble about. Check out the plate format:

To the right, beautiful spiders. To the left, wasted space.

Once you have identified your mystery spider and wish to read more, you are directed to a blurb 50 or so pages away. Flip. Flip back. Flip again. Flip. Flip. Flip.

Yet, gaze across the vast white plains on the left. Pertinent biological and geographic information could just as well have been pasted across from the illustration. The book is unnecessarily cumbersome as a reference, and longer than it needs to be. This antiquated layout is a frustrating flaw for a book whose production obviously received a great deal of attention.

Still, the artwork makes Common Spiders an instant classic. Highly recommended.



Helpis minitabunda - Aussie bronze jumping spider

I can’t help but think taxonomists should be having more fun with the jumping spider genus Helpis.

Like, Helpis coming. Or, Helpis movethiscouch.

photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/13, 1/200 sec
diffuse twin flash

Answer to the Monday Mystery: the infamous redback spider

Yesterday’s red smear looked to me like a lava field on some distant planet. Zoom out, though, and we see this:

Latrodectus hasselti

The redback spider is an Australian equivalent of our Northern hemisphere black widow. Both are in the widow genus, Latrodectus, and both build low, tangled webs near the ground. I could blather on about this fascinating spider, but I suspect you’d rather hear David Attenborough:

Anyway. 10 points go to Morgan Jackson for being the first to guess the species.

Portrait of a jumping spider

Spider Eyes
Phidippus jumping spider (Urbana, Illinois)

One of the joys of our BugShot 2011 photo workshop was learning spider photography from the brilliant young Thomas Shahan. To capture this image of a local Phidippus jumping spider, I drew from four of Thomas’s pointers:

  1. Approach the subject from below so that it looms large in the photograph.
  2. Arrange a backdrop to complement the colors of the organism.
  3. Diffuse the light to really bring out the character of the spider’s captivating eyes.
  4. Patience! This photo session took about an hour of experimentation and many mediocre shots before I captured the winner.

Here’s a less magnified view of the subject:

photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/13, 1/160 sec, diffuse twin flash

Sunday Night Movie: Ant v Spider

I can do without the sensationalized narration and the lion sounds pasted to the spider, but this video shows a couple notable behaviors:

First, notice how numbers trump size. An ant colony sacrifices a single worker, but the biomass gain from a single spider more than compensates their loss. Ants are dominant, among other reasons, because social insects can hunt in ways solitary animals simply can’t.

Second, if you’ve ever wondered why Myrmecia sport such toothy jaws, here’s your answer. The mandibles double-duty for holding and slicing large prey:

Finally, that slow-motion jump is the most awesome thing I’ve seen since roller derby.