A peculiar spider construction with a "tower" surrounded by a silk fence.

Arachnews: March 2019

Featured image: “silkhenge” spider nest in Tambopata, Peru, by Phil Torres.

This month: new peacock spiders, a new ZeFrank video, some really unique hunting and feeding behaviours observed, tips for spider-hunters, and more.

Art and education

  • ZeFrank makes a glorious return with True Facts about the Bolas Spider. Both accurate and hilarious. My favourite line: “chatting up a piece of pigeon shit for two hours”.
  • I absolutely love this pixel art graphic of the different arachnid orders by @ni075. It’s part of a thread on that horseshoe crab paper from last month.

Dispatches

Thank you for allowing me to meet you. You are beautiful, and I want to share your beauty with others, to teach people to care for your kind. To do that, we have to know what to call you. May your sacrifice benefit not only your kind, but also all spiders and the humans who learn to love them.

Research and observations

  • We’ve all seen orb-weaving spiders taking advantage of bright artificial lights at night. How does this affect the spiders? Is the increased haul worth the physiological side-effects, and what could the long-term consequences be for urban ecosystems? This paper from a team at the University of Melbourne provides some preliminary investigations. [Paper.]

  • This paper from researchers at the University of Western Ontario combines two of my favourite things: red velvet mites, and the question of how bugs outlast harsh Canadian winters. Yes, these mites can survive being frozen at -20°C! [Paper.]

  • There’s a lot of research on the colour preferences of vertebrate predators like birds, but only a few papers for another group of smart visual hunters—jumping spiders! Do jumping spiders like the Floridian Habronattus brunneus learn to avoid red-coloured prey? In a different environment, would they react differently? [Paper.]

  • The jumping spider Telamonia dimidiata is common throughout Southeast Asia, but misinformation and ignorance is rife, says Javed Ahmed. That’s what compelled him and his co-authors to document their observations in a short article for Peckhamia. [Paper.]

  • In the newsletter of the British Arachnological Society, Chris Cathrine describes male hacklemesh weavers (Amaurobius similis) feeding on mushed banana in his kitchen. Spiders feeding on sugary stuff from plants has been widely observed, but this would seem to be the first documented case from the Amaurobiidae family. The best bit:

[The author] would also like to thank his children, Logan and Ross Cathrine, for leaving pieces of mushed banana out on his kitchen table.

[Paper.]

  • The slingshot spider’s hunting method is truly unique: it weaves an orb web, then pulls it back taut with a thread at the centre. When prey comes near, the spider releases the thread, hurling itself and the web forward. And according to Symone Alexander and colleagues at Georgia Tech, it moves faster than any other spider. And its acceleration puts the cheetah to shame!

New species

  • A new genus of bald-legged spiders (family Tropididae) from Colombia has been named Stormtropis after the stormtroopers in Star Wars. Why? “These soldiers are very similar to each other, with some capacity for camouflage but with unskillful movements, like this group of spiders.” [Paper.]

  • Non-profit citizen science group Project Maratus has discovered three new colourful, charismatic peacock jumping spiders from Western Australia. Maratus aquilus’s markings resemble an eagle’s face; M. combustus has a flame-coloured abdomen; and M. felinus’s tufted abdomen looks oddly like a cat. I was personally hoping for the last one to be named M. pusheeni. [Paper.]

Photos of three newly described peacock jumping spiders.
M. aquilus, M. felinus, and M. combustus.

Events

  • The Royal Botanical Gardens (Hamilton/Burlington, ON) is hosting the exhibit Spiders Alive! until April 14. There are events and programs for all ages, and also a very exciting tarantula livestream.

Thank you for reading! Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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