Arachnews: January 20, 2020

A week’s worth of art, news, and science about spiders and their relatives.

Neville Park
Jan 21, 2020 · 7 min read

Just a small update this week, as I’m still catching up on sorting through the backlog of papers. There’s still plenty of stuff: charismatic paradise jumpers (genus Habronattus), the return of Silkhenge, fallout of the Australian bushfires, fossil scorpions, provocative phylogeny, and more.

Art & Media

A stunning pair of Poltys orbweavers photographed by @Gaison64.
Today, 3D paradise jumping spider models. Tomorrow, Pixar. • Duncan Irschick
  • “I’m not tattooing much these days, but I can’t resist anything that involves spiders, botanicals and nature etc.,” writes Tea about this stunning black widow tattoo. If this is a trend, we’re fully on board!
  • Caitlin Henderson has the strongest caption game on Spider Twitter, and this thread is hilarious (and will make you sympathize with wolf spider mothers).

Education & Outreach

The peacock spider Maratus aquilus’ abdomen looks kind of like a praying mantis’s face. • Jurgen Otto
  • Do peacock jumping spiders’ abdomens really look like wasps and mantises? For males, maybe mimicking a predator gets females to stay still long enough to see a courtship dance. Kimberly Hickok covers Olivia Harris’s research presented recently at SICB. [LiveScience]
  • Leanda Mason and Caitlin Henderson have 10 reasons that Australians shouldn’t fear spiders. [The Conversation]
A myrmecophilic spider and its ant roommate • AntRoom
  • [Japanese] It’s an ant/spider crossover episode! AntRoom blogs about the spiders that live alongside ants in their nests. Google Translated version here. [AntRoom]
  • Tim Dederichs describes how he and his colleagues discovered that, contrary to widespread belief, male spiders have nerves in their copulatory bulbs—the organs in their pedipalps (short, leglike appendages) used to transfer sperm to females during mating. Think “turkey baster meets corkscrew”. With nerves in it! Nature is great. [On Biology]
  • Grace Blakeley, an undergrad who got to spend a summer in the McGregor Lab, describes researching the genes that determine a house spider’s body plan. [The Node]
  • You may hear people saying that spiders and scorpions are venomous, not poisonous. But what’s the difference? It’s all in how they deliver toxins, explains Jake Buehler. [National Geographic]
  • What are the consequences of sensationalizing spiders as dangerous and aggressive? Tom Moran, known for his series on caring for pet tarantulas, argues that doing so perpetuates misconceptions about these animals, and keeps people from learning about them. [Tom’s Big Spiders]

Events & News

Probably the only photo of Zephyrarchaea austini that will ever exist. Thanks, humans. • Mike Rix
  • The rare and bizarre assassin spider Zephyrarchaea austini, found only in a small part of Kangaroo Island, South Australia, may be extinct after its habitat was destroyed by bushfires. We finally, really did it. [ABC News]
  • Related: We know that large vertebrates like birds and mammals are vastly outnumbered by arthropod species. Mike Lee calculates how many insect species could be pushed to the brink by the bushfires. [The Conversation]
  • Samantha Nixon’s quest to collect new spiders for the University of Queensland’s venom lab has gotten coverage from ABC News and Sunrise Live.
  • THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Phil Torres has found another Silkhenge in the Amazon. Interestingly, individual “henges” seem to be clustered close together. [YouTube]
  • A comprehensive new natural history book from Norman Platnick is on the way! Spiders of the World: A Guide to Every Family will be published by Princeton University Press in March. [Princeton University Press]


Not an H. R. Giger creation—this is an Ixodes tick feeding! • Vancová, Bílý, Šimo et al. 2020
  • Unlike mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers, ticks don’t drink directly from their hosts’ blood vessels. They use their mouthparts to tear into the skin, creating a pool of blood that they drink from. In between drinks, they secrete saliva that, among other things, suppresses the host’s immune system. There’s still a lot we don’t know about how tick mouthparts work, so a group of researchers scanned ticks in very fine detail to create a 3D model of tick feeding. [Paper 🔓️]
  • Acetylcarvacrol, a compound derived from thyme and oregano, damages brown dog ticks’ (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) ovaries. It may help mitigate tick infestations, but more experiments are needed. [Paper] [Sci-Hub]
  • The European wasp spider Argiope bruennichi has spread from the Mediterranean to the Baltic countries and Scandinavia. Researchers compared spiders from the core range (southern France) and the outermost edges (Estonia and Latvia) to see if the northern populations were faster-multiplying or more likely to balloon away — the “Olympic Village effect”. [Paper 🔓️]
Meet Parioscorpio venator, the oldest scorpion ever found. • University of Wisconsin Geology Museum
  • Over 430 million years ago, the bodies of two ancient scorpions were buried in shallow sediments in the ocean that is now Waukesha, Wisconsin. They were unearthed in the 1980s, but languished in a museum collection until scientists noticed them a few years ago. The complexity of the scorpions’ respiratory systems suggests that, like modern species, they could have lived on land. This is very exciting, because they would be among the first land-dwelling animals ever. More details in this Science Magazine piece. [Paper 🔓️]
  • A 2016 paper on social spider behaviour was recently retracted after the authors found problems with the data. Lead author Kate Laskowski explains why in a Twitter thread. This, too, is an important part of science, and I am both sad and grateful. [Retraction 🔓️]


  • Four new Goloboffia trapdoor spiders from Chile, including G. megadeth and G. pachelbeli, who are getting all the press. However, I also find it amusing that G. griswoldi is named after the arachnologist Charles Griswold, who named the genus after Pablo Goloboff, who’s one of the authors of this paper. That’s how you do it, folks. [Paper] [Sci-Hub]
  • Five new species of Wulfila ghost spiders from Mexico. I like Wulfila phantasma. [Paper] [Sci-Hub]
  • A new species of hacklemesh weaver, Amaurobius caucasicus, from Eastern Georgia. [Paper] [Sci-Hub]
  • The mitochondrial genome of Indian tarantula Lyrognathus crotalus has been sequenced for the first time. [Paper 🔓️]
  • Over the years, Cheiracanthium sac spiders have been bounced around from family Clubionidae, to Miturgidae, to Eutichuridae, to their own family, Cheiracanthiidae. Hopefully sequencing the mitochondrial genome of the Indian species C. triviale will help? (Don’t hold your breath.) [Paper] [Sci-Hub]
The scientific equivalent of shipping wars? • Ballesteros, Santibáñez, Kováč, Gavish-Regev & Sharma 2019
  • Okay, so you know how J. J. Abrams made The Force Awakens, and then Rian Johnson made The Last Jedi, and then J. J. Abrams retconned everything back in The Rise of Skywalker? Well, imagine that Ballesteros & Sharma 2019, where they were like, “Horseshoe crabs are actually arachnids!” is The Force Awakens, and the rebuttal from Lozano-Fernandez, Tanner, Giacomelli et al. 2019 is The Last Jedi, and this new paper from the Sharma lab is The Rise of Skywalker.* The absolute madmen threw in new genomic data from three obscure arachnid groups—Palpigradi (microwhip scorpions), Opiliocariformes (a weird order of mites), and Schizomida (short-tailed whip scorpions)—to prove that horseshoe crabs are too arachnids. Also, microwhip scorpions’ closest relatives might be camel spiders? Who’s Reylo in this? Help. [Paper 🔓️]
    * Actually the Sharma lab is more like Rian Johnson, because they’re the ones going against established orthodoxy, and are awesome, just like The Last Jedi. Fight me IRL.
Scorpions and spiders are (phylogenetic) sisters, based on shared copies of a few genes. Colours show where those genes are expressed on the legs (or other body parts) of each animal • Nolan, Santibáñez, & Sharma 2020
  • Related: So, where do regular (non-whip and still-tailed) scorpions fit into the “family tree” of arachnids? Based on their body shape, previous studies thought that scorpions were one of the first types of arachnids to have evolved, with spiders evolving much later. But in a new paper that tracks copies of genes like dachsund and extradenticle, the Sharma lab makes its case for scorpions being the closest relative of spiders, and both having evolved much later. “But wait, what about that 430 million year old scorpion fossil I just read about?” you might be wondering. Well, it might be that ancient scorpions split from the ancestor of modern scorpions (and most other arachnids) a even longer time ago. Or those fossils are from scorpions that had already moved onto land and then re-evolved an aquatic lifestyle. Yes, this is a developing story, and we will be covering the cinematic universe as it ensues. [Paper] [Sci-Hub]

Thank you for reading, and thanks to Sebastian Alejandro Echeverri for edits and additions! Comments, suggestions, and corrections are always welcome. Drop us a (silk) line at @arachnofiles.


Arachnids are fascinating.

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