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Arachnews: May 3, 2021

Back from the dead: your regular roundup of arachnid-related news, art, and science.

In the Peruvian Amazon, Johanna Johnson (L) and Symone Alexander (R) spot a slingshot spider in action for the first time. • Saad Bhamla

Well, I’m back. Much like a tarantula, I felt the need to seal myself into a burrow for several months on end for no particular reason. Going forward I will have to choose just a handful of items to write up here; and tackling the entire Arachnews backlog is out of the question. But here is a sprinkling of arachnid-related art, news, and science from the last several months.

Neville trying to keep up with Google Scholar alerts, colourized (2020–2021)

Art & Media

Botswana Post’s “Invertebrates of the Kalahari” stamps include a spider series by Baboloki Somolekae, and more recently scorpions by Totang Motoloki.
Spiders in the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards: Vidyun R Hebbar’s “City Signature” (Highly Commended, 10 Years & Under), Ripan Biswas’s “Death by Deception” (Winner, Wildlife Photographer Portfolio Award), Jaime Culebras’s “The Spider’s Supper” (Highly Commended, Invertebrate Behaviour)
Check out this cute demo for the upcoming game “Webbed”; it’s not out yet, but you can wishlist it on Steam.
David Bowie as spiders, a thread • @Pandamoanimum
You are not emotionally prepared for this video about a senior jumping spider. • @mini_robomuppets

Outreach & Education

  • Caitlin Henderson goes in search of social huntsmen (Delena cancerides) in her latest video. [YouTube]
  • Spiders make a few appearances in the new David Attenborough Netflix miniseries Life in Colour: flower crab spiders are featured in episode 2, and Lisa Taylor’s Habronattus pyrrithrix makeovers are in episode 3. [Netflix]
  • Tea Francis and Our Own Sebastian Alejandro Echeverri have both recently appeared on the animal review podcast Just the Zoo of Us.
  • Arachnologist L. Brian Patrick has started a podcast about newly described species, featuring interviews with the researchers. Arachnids are very well-represented so far, with species in six out of 15 episodes. [New Species]
  • For iNaturalist’s blog, Tony Iwane profiles Naufal Urfi Dhiya’ulhaq, one of the site’s most prolific and knowledgeable spider identifiers. His “beat” is the hyper-diverse but critically understudied spider fauna of southeast Asia; he has also taken a lead role in encouraging community science in his home country, Indonesia. [iNaturalist]

News & Events

Upcoming Events

  • The 2021 American Arachnological Association meeting will again be held online, June 24–July 1. The registration deadline is May 7. More details at the AAS website. [American Arachnological Society]
  • The organizers of the 7th Congreso Latinoamericano de Aracnología (to be held in Colombia) have announced the conference will be postponed to 2024. This is to avoid conflicting with the 22nd International Congress of Arachnology in Uruguay, which has been postponed to 2023. [Twitter]


  • In the latest from Fiona Cross and Robert Jackson’s research on Evarcha culicivora, an East African jumping spider that specializes in hunting blood-filled mosquitoes, they find that E. culicivora can not only find mosquitoes by smell alone, but will even take a detour to reach them. [Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 🔒️]
  • Roses are red,
    Tail self-amputation
    in female scorpions
    causes lifelong constipation. [American Naturalist 🔒] [Sci-Hub]
  • “The slingshot spider is one of few examples where an organism uses an externally built tool (a web) and not an anatomical structure as a spring to achieve ultrafast motion, motion that is too fast for the organism’s neurons to monitor or modify.” These very cool ray spiders (family Theridiosomatidae) slingshot their orb webs towards prey—and unlike the similar Hyptiotes (family Uloboridae), they can release the tension line a bit at a time, allowing them to slingshot multiple times before “reloading”. At their fastest, they accelerate ten times faster than a cheetah sprinting! Read more about Symone Alexander and Saad Bhamla’s research in The Scientist. [Press release] [Current Biology 🔒️] [Sci-Hub]
  • More cool ray spider research: on Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco, Wendilgarda galapagensis spins three different kinds of webs depending on where it lives—in the trees, near the ground, or over water. Surprisingly, this does not seem to be an example of speciation in progress; spiders moved to different microhabitats changed the kind of web they made. [New Scientist] [Proceedings of the Royal Society B]
  • We’ve previously mentioned the work of artist Tomás Saraceno, which attempts to translate spiders’ interactions with silk into music. MIT’s Markus Buehler and colleagues, who collaborated with Saraceno on the sonification piece Spider’s Canvas, have taken it a step further and created a virtual reality interface that allows the user to “hear” and explore a Cyrtophora citricola web under construction. This work was presented at the American Chemical Society’s latest meeting, but has not yet been published. [ScienceAlert] [The Scientist] [Inverse] [Ars Technica] [Press release]
  • The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), which transmits the Lyme disease-causing bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is widespread throughout the eastern United States. However, ticks infected with the bacteria are pretty much only found in the northeast. What gives?

    It’s important to note that when ticks first hatch, they aren’t infected. They become infected by feeding on infected host animals. And it turns out that in the southeast, they prefer to feed on lizards—which are very poor reservoirs of B. burgdorferi. This has interesting implications when you factor in the likely effects of climate change on animal ranges. [Science Magazine] [PLOS Biology]
The real political compass: climate change perceptions vs. Lyme disease perceptions. • Cameron et al. 2021
  • Speaking of climate change and Lyme disease, a study from Manitoba found that rural people, who tended to be skeptical about climate change, also tended to be better-informed and more diligent about tick bite prevention practices (tucking pants into socks, checking for ticks afterwards, etc.). The authors suggest that public health communication about Lyme disease should leave out mention of climate change in places where climate change denial is widespread. [BMC Public Health]

Jonas O. Wolff is the guest editor for a special issue of the Journal of Comparative Physiology A on the science of arachnid motion. Check out his editorial and Twitter thread for accessible summaries; but we cannot help highlighting a few papers here as well.

SCIENCE!!! • Escalante, Ellis & Elias 2021
  • Measuring the endurance of harvesters on a treadmill, before and after losing legs. [J Comp Physiol A 🔒️] [Sci-Hub]
  • Modelling the physics of slingshot spiders’ webs—another paper from the Bhamla lab’s work on slingshot spiders [J Comp Physiol A 🔒️]
  • Reconciling two explanations for spider ballooning: air currents and the Earth’s electrical field. [J Comp Physiol A 🔒]
  • Tracking the kleptoparasite Argyrodes elevatus’ path as it navigates the web of the gigantic golden silk orbweaver (Trichonephila clavipes). [J Comp Physiol A 🔒️]

Taxonomy & Systematics

  • Spiders are generally thought of as excellent travellers, sailing on the wind to new islands and continents. Tarantulas, heavy-bodied and unsuited to ballooning, are one exception. So how did they end up all over the world? This new paper, drawing on genetic and fossil evidence, finds that tarantulas originated in the southern supercontinent Gondwana during the Cretaceous and were carried along by continental drift. Surprisingly, tarantulas from the Indian subcontinent spread into Asia twice—giving rise to ground-dwelling and tree-dwelling lineages respectively. [Press release] [PeerJ]
Photos of Selenops bullerengue, a Colombian flattie.
  • Meet Selenops bullerengue, a new species of flattie from the Colombian Caribbean. Last author Dr. Lauren Esposito says: “The specific epithet comes from a type of cumbia music and dance traditionally performed by women from Afro-descendant/Maroon communities of the Colombian Caribbean where the new species is found.” [Paper 🔒️] [WSC]
The leggy, moss-covered Muscopilio onod. • Tropical Andean Arachnids
  • Moss-covered harvesters from the Andes represent not only a new species but a new genus! Muscopilio onod is named after the Sindarin word for Ents in The Lord of the Rings. It joins Iandumoema smeagol and I. gollum in the ranks of Tolkien-inspired opilionid names. Remarkably, this is not the work of a lone nerdy taxonomist—all of these were named by separate teams. [Zoologischer Anzeiger 🔒️]
Abbadon despoliator: “Very distinctive morphology and coloration, covered in spines and tubercles. Many happy hours illustrating it.”• Shahan Derkarbetian
  • While we’re talking nerdy harvester names, meet Abaddon despoliator, named after Warhammer 40K’s Abaddon the Despoiler. See Shahan Derkarbetian’s Twitter thread for more on this paper. There’s also an article at Warhammer Community! [Invertebrate Systematics 🔒]
  • Rebecca Godwin and James Bond’s revision of North America’s Ummidia trapdoor spiders introduces a whopping thirty-three new species, with a number of notable namesakes. Ummidia neilgaimani was found south of Blacksburg, Virginia, described as the location of the World Tree in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. U. colemanae is named after the early 20th century Black and Native American aviator Bessie Coleman. U. waunekaae honours Navajo leader and activist Annie Dodge Wauneka. Arachnologists Mercedes Burns and Paula Cushing also have species named after them. Other nods include Guatemalan environmentalist Mario Dary Rivera and musicians Peter Gabriel and Brandi Carlile.

    I scream-laughed at the “Etymology” section for U. rongodwini, named for Godwin’s husband: “The specific epithet is a patronym named for the first author’s husband and partner Ron Godwin as an expression of gratitude for his love and support throughout her graduate career. The second author likes Ron but not as much as the first author.” [Zootaxa]
[Handshake meme] Megarachne and Parioscorpio shaking hands: lamenting how hard it is to get a genus name changed
Meme from the American Arachnological Society on Twitter.
Maratus nemoSchubert 2021
  • Speaking of species discovered via social media: meet Maratus nemo, whose orange and white-striped face call to mind Disney’s clownfish. Sheryl Holliday posted photos of the marsh-dwelling spider to a Facebook group, which got the attention of peacock spider taxonomy whiz Joseph Schubert. [National Geographic] [Evolutionary Systematics]
  • A phylogeny of peacock jumping spiders! Knowing how these spiders are related to each other has important implications for figuring out how their unique and complex colouration and courtship evolved. [Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 🔒️]

As always, thank you for reading, and thanks to Sebastian Alejandro Echeverri for edits. Suggestions and feedback are very welcome; drop us a (silk) line on Twitter at @arachnofiles. 🕷️



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