Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive."

The origin of this saying is a bit of a mystery. Is it an Old English nursery rhyme? An American Quaker saying? At least it contains more than a grain of truth (where would the world's ecosystems – and we – be without spiders?), and it's certainly better than the bit of folk nonsense – "Step on a spider and it will rain." One thing for sure, there are plenty of spiders running alive – in the grass, on leaves, on trees, under stones and on the water – almost anywhere you care to look.

The wonder is that spiders aren't noticed more often. True, some have lifestyles that require cryptic colors but many arachnids literally glitter and shine and are as dazzling as any butterfly or flower. Like this female Tutelina similis, for example. The photos simply cannot do justice to this spider, it's body, a whole 5 mm in length, is iridescent but the cephalothorax under the right lighting is a shimmering lilac color. Tutelina similis differs from the closely related Tutelina elegans in not having a white band around the abdomen.

Two tiny male spiders, about 3 mm in length, were in the vicinity of the female. Sure enough there was a connection – they were indeed male Tutelina similis (a male Tutelina elegans would sport black tufts of hair on its first tibia) and no doubt prospective suitors for her hand in marriage, metaphorically speaking, all eight of them ... and him with only seven ...

A male Habronattus decorus ... the name is certainly apropos, how does irridescent pearl grey and glittering rose sound for a color scheme? Again, the image doesn't convey how striking this spider is in reality . All of this is packed into a mere 5 mm ... yes, Jumping Spiders definitely take first prize for appearance and color.

Doing its best to imitate a bit of dead plant debris or a dry seed, Acanthepeira spp makes up in funky form what it lacks in cool colors. This Orbweaver is only about 5 mm long making it very easy to overlook, which of course is the idea from a predator/prey point of view.

Much like the origin of the saying in the title of this post, the identity of this ant-mimicking male arachnid is a mystery ...

... as were, until recently, the names of the following two spiders. But today, whilst researching the enigmatic ant-mimick I identified this male by stumbling across it whilst searching for something else – it's a Two-banded Antmimic (Castianeira cingulata). "Stumbling across" is used in a figurative and not literal sense, the spider is only about 6 mm long.

This pretty girl with the yummy name of Candystripe Spider (Enoplognatha ovata) was also IDed by random find (of the same blog!) on the 'net. Too bad she prefers to hide out in the shadows instead of showing off her colors.

Beautifully patterned in black and white, Neriene radiata, the Filmy Dome Spider, also prefers shady places. It's a male (note the enlarged palps) and it looks like he's molted recently because there's an exuviae in his web (look near the bottom of the first photograph).

It's easy to dismiss spiders and think of them, if not with outright fear and revulsion, as drab and uninteresting creepy-crawlies beneath our notice. Hopefully these photographs and the images elsewhere in this blog have shattered that illusion and illustrated the diversity of color, form, and the fascinating lifestlyes of spiders. They've been "running alive" for a cool 300 million years, that's a lot of time to be sifted though the sieve of natural selection and find their place in the tangled web of life on earth, and it's an ongoing process ...