We found one unusual spider today, and she was frustrating. First thing we noticed about her: she looked like our familiar Parasteatoda, except that she was half again, maybe twice the size of the house spiders we usually see. She was also relatively lightly colored, compared to the mottled brown of our familiar friends. So I caught her, with the idea that I might be able to more closely examine her in the lab. Hah. This was the most frantically active spider I’ve ever had to work with, scrabbling non-stop at the sides of the vial. I tried everything to get her to hold still and let me do some close-ups and measurements — she was having none of that.

I put her in a vial, I put her in a small petri dish to confine her. Nothing worked.

I finally just let her out to scurry about on my hand — I thought if nothing else, it would help give some perspective on her size. Have you ever tried to focus a camera and keep a spider in view as it is running all over your hand, and while you’re trying to make sure it doesn’t escape? She wasn’t cooperative at all.

One alternative, one a real arachnologist wouldn’t balk at, would be to kill and fix her, maybe even do a little dissection. The thing is…I’ve never killed a spider, not even in my lab work, and I’d like to maintain that record. I’m a biologist, dammit, I study life, not death, and while I’ve killed flies, fish, kittens, rabbits, mice, dogs, and goats in the line of duty, I’d rather not, thank you very much, and if I can study living animals without harming them, I’d rather do that. I’m sure I’ll eventually have to do some of the dirty wicked killing business with adult spiders, but I’ll put that off as long as I can.

Anyway, I think I exhausted her eventually, and she just wanted to curl up and hang off the end of a brush. I still couldn’t get her into the orientation I wanted.

My current plan: I’ve put her in a large vial, fed her some flies, and hope she spins a nice cobweb in there. Once she’s hanging from a nice strong web frame, I might be able to rotate the vial around and get a better shot of her.


  1. erie says

    Can’t you anesthetize arachnids by putting them on ice, the way you would an insect or crustacean?

  2. PaulBC says

    tomh@1 Only in his other job as Satanic priest I assume. He’d never kill a poor helpless goat in the name of science.

  3. Matt G says

    PZ, if the spider bites you, you will NOT get “spidey-sense” or any other superpower.

  4. PaulBC says

    Spiders freak me out, especially the ones with big bloated abdomens like half the pictures here. But I try not to kill them. I just stay out their way for the most part. I have killed spiders by accident with hot water in the shower. l also killed a black widow deliberately with bug spray and now I feel kind of bad about it. It was under a deck in my backyard and I had a toddler at the time who played out there. The weird thing is that it disappeared. If something ate it like a bird, I hope that animal wasn’t poisoned. This was nearly 15 years ago and I think it’s the only black widow I ever saw. It’s hard for me to imagine literally not ever killing a spider.

  5. Thornae says

    My dad always used to pop invertebrates in the fridge for an hour or so (in a container of some sort, of course) to get them to slow down enough to photograph. Didn’t seem to do them much harm.
    However, a quick search seems to indicate that it’s not now a preferred method for a variety of reasons – in particular potential cruelty and damage, and unnatural conditions.
    Nonetheless, if you’ve a somewhat cooler area available, it might help her to chill out a bit…

  6. davidc1 says

    Pay my airfare from GB to America and i will gladly squish it for you .
    Did you know some of them scientists got some spiders high on weed ,it really messed up their
    ability to spin webs .

  7. johnniefurious says

    Thank you for sharing all these. I have really enjoyed the spider posts here. With all the horribleness going on in the atheist community, I didn’t expect that posts about spiders would be the relaxing and stress-relieving escape I needed.