This just in: spiders tune the silk threads of their webs like guitar strings
… and they use the distinct vibrational frequencies to help them locate meals and mates. Hear the full story of these good vibrations, from NPR’s Christopher Joyce, here.
And watch our video!:
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations on this one.
Over an hour and a half of construction captured by a picture taken every four seconds, a spider weaves its web. This one is a larger size, but there’s some extra climbing involved when you’re a smaller spider.
Related reading: all about spider webs, including the different structures. Related watching: more spiders, including this video of a Tube Web Spider, a Stag Beetle, and a Long-horned Beetleat the Natural History Museum in London.
That’s what I call bioengineering.
Maratus volans, better known as the Peacock Spider. The brilliant colouring is not just for decoration but also to attract females. The peacock spider has earned its name when he courts with his mate through dancing. Like a peacock, he raises his two magnificently coloured flaps and dances for the female.
These fuzzy little guys, some just a few millimeters in length, have intricate, species-specific dance moves. Not only are they likely displaying their health and vigor to potential mates, but they are also reminding females that they are the same species, so, like “please don’t eat me, hun!”
If you want to learn more about this arachnid tango, head over to Wired and read all about it. If you’d really want to dig in to the science of peacock spider dancing, including the sounds that go along with this eight-legged twerking display, here’s an open-access paper at PLOS One.
This is not the black widow that bit me.
The spider that bit me is now spinning webs in the sky. Or wherever dead spiders end up. Unlike dogs, I have a strong suspicion that they do not all go to heaven.
I killed her. I didn’t do it on purpose, but she’s dead. We had a miscommunication about the ownership of a sleeping bag, and it got ugly. First for her, when I rolled over and squished her, and later for me. Before she went, she made sure I wouldn’t enjoy my stay for long. In that last instant of spider life, she bit me. I wouldn’t know that any of this drama had taken place for a couple hours, of course. But I would definitely come to know it. I would come to know it so hard. (This is a long story, so I spared you dashboard readers. Click through to read the gory details)
Encounters With Orb Weavers
Spiders come in packages big and small, from the pinhead-sized Patu digua to the foot-wide nightmare factory known as the giant huntsman spider. There is no reason a spider needs to be that big, nature. No reason save scaring the children.
In North America, the largest spider most of us will ever encounter is the golden orb-weaver (Argiope aurantia). Most likely, you will encounter it with your face, early in the morning, as you walk through one of its distinctively round webs, propelling you from sleepy to OH GOD IT’S IN MY HAIR GET IT OUT AHHHHHH in less than three seconds. It’s the Ferrari of fear.
Eventually you settle down, and you are finally able to appreciate their elaborately woven hunting nets, glistening in the dew. There they sit, one spider sentry per sticky circle, waiting for lunch, or breakfast, or perhaps even elevensies, if spiders eat elevensies.
I came across a fine assortment of orb-weavers recently while passing through Hope, Texas, which is just about the cutest name for a town that there ever was. The spiders were nice enough to let me take their picture. Of course, everyone’s nice in Hope.
Isn’t it nice how the low sun shines through their translucent upper limbs, highlighting that delicate array of sensory hairs? They use those prickly probes to tactilely “hear” their web and the world. Spiders don’t have ears. Which is probably a good thing, since they would look rather silly with them. There was an amazing amount of pigment variation, even between spiders a few feet apart. Rare were the blacks and yellows I’ve seen elsewhere, replaced by mottled khaki and white, certainly a more appropriate color scheme for the limited palette of brown and slightly lighter brown that paints the Texas summer:
(via) Ok maybe it’s not quite that bad. But it’s not far off. Ugh, I can still feel the heat. But I digress …
In case you’re wondering, yes, I did throw that grasshopper into the middle spider’s web, because carnage makes for good photography. The local population of grasshoppers was thereby lowered from 7,438,219,900 to a not-at-all-dangerously-low 7,438,219,899. The spiders of Hope, Texas seem to live in an all-you-can-eat buffet, the Golden Corral for golden orb-weaving spiders.
This male (noted by the smaller body size) had the ‘hopper swaddled in a dinner jacket in less than ten seconds, like an eight-armed Chipotle employee on meth. Drink up!
The bottom picture threw me for a loop. Or rather threw me for a zig-zag. At first glance, I thought maybe that spider was making some sort of avant-garde architectural statement with its web. But then it occurred to me that spiders are clearly postmodernist architects, with their love for simplicity, form meeting function, all that.
A little research at home told me that the chevron-shaped structure is called a stabilimentum. The function of this adornment is still debated, but it’s known that only day-hunting spiders use them, and those that do catch about a third fewer bugs than those that don’t. My favorite theory suggests it’s a trade-off between less chow and helping birds and errant humans named Joe avoid careening through your masterpiece of a meal-catcher. I guess the idea is “keep a bird off it”.
Evolution loves a little give and take. It’s not as cool as the spider who builds a spider-shaped decoy in its web, but every artist has to start somewhere.
I’m not sure I’ll ever love spiders, but days like this make me at least strongly like them. A common species, yes, but stopping to smell the science is always an uncommon experience.
We Must Protect This House
It’s like a maypole erected within a barbed wire fence! Not only does the central pole have several “guy-wire” support strands keeping it up, but the outer poles have horizontal strands strung between them, just like our fences. It’s almost certainly a defense mechanism against ants or other predators for whatever is incubating inside. What an amazing evolutionary feat!
Several commenters at Why Evolution Is True believe it is either the egg sac of a mystery spider or a very elaborate moth cocoon. While some moths have been known to erect Stonehenge-like fences around their cocoons, I lean more toward the spider theory.
Moth cocoons (like this incredible lace-like cage observed by Destin from Smarter Every Day) are spun by the caterpillar that is cooking inside, and I just can’t see a way that this silk was spun by the resident. It’s just too elaborate. More likely that a spider built her babies this safe little home and then sailed away. Ideas?
Other theories: Tiny Area 51, Insect Isengard, air traffic control station for jungle birds.
Ahh, I could kiss you, evolution.
Attention arachniphobes: Colin Schultz has some bad news for you over at Smithsonian’s Smart News: This Giant New Tarantula Has an Eight-Inch Leg Span
Let’s design the world’s most terrifying spider, shall we?
First, we’ll get the basics down: the legs, the eyes, the fangs. Some spiders, like the giant huntsman, look scary but are basically harmless. We can’t have that. Our spider needs to be poisonous. Let’s make it super fast, too, able to dart around in and out of reach. It needs to have camouflage and a propensity for hiding in the world’s nooks and crannies, ready to jump out and scare the bejesus out of us. Now, we’re almost there, but we’re certainly missing something. Oh, I know, let’s make it the size of your face.
Say hello to Peocilotheria rajaei, Sri Lanka’s most recently discovered giant spider.
But don’t worry, it’s only like the second-biggest spider ever. Really, nature? Really?! We needed this?
(via Smart News)
Gorgeous mechanical insect and arachnid creations made from recycled watch parts, by Justin Gershenson-Gates (A Mechanical Mind)