Gardens provide fresh vegetables and spiders

I’m getting a little worried about my wife. She’s been getting a bit…obsessive. She’s been gardening this summer, and sure, it’s great getting fresh vegetables, but she’s taken to getting down on her knees and looking under every leaf and at every stem, and I think she’s currently spending more effort pursuing spiders than anything else. It’s a little weird. So she just had me run to the lab and bring back a dozen vials so she can continue her perverse hobby of peering at arachnids.

This is her latest discovery, a lovely tetragnathid.

Do you think she’s getting rather carried away with this spider mania? What should I do?


Steatoda triangulosa, hovering watchfully over her egg sac.

We also set up 8 Parasteatoda tepidariorum with mates today. For the most part, all went well, with the males approaching tentatively and plucking at the female’s web, as they should. One female went berserk when we added a male, chasing him all over the cage while he frantically scurried away. We were concerned that we ought to split them up, but they’d reached a cautious détente after about 20 minutes, so maybe their relationship will work out.

We’ll know in a week or two if we see more egg sacs.

The Spider Times

I’m trying to keep my spider-squad informed about plans for the lab, so I’ll be periodically sending out notifications to them. I figured maybe other people might be interested in the goings-on, at least those of you who aren’t currently horrified at my arachnological obsession of late.

Hey, spider-people! I bring you news.

1. Two weeks ago, we set up new cages for the female Parasteatoda in the colony: spacious, clean, with cardboard frames to clamber on. The spiders seem very happy, and have been busy filling the frames with cobwebs.

2. Last week, I was away at an arachnology conference that extended longer than expected, because of terrible airline delays. When I got back on Sunday, I fed everyone. They were hungry. All the spiders dived for the flies with impressive speed and were munching away ferociously.

3. I’m planning on regular feeding times every Monday and Thursday at noon — but not today, since I fed them yesterday. Feel free to stop by to watch the spectacle!

4. Today is a special day for another reason. After giving the females a week to construct webs in their new housing, today at noon is the day we’re going to introduce males into their chambers. We’re hoping the roomier quarters means they won’t immediately eat their mates. Come on by for the nuptials!

5. I’m planning the next phase of the Stevens County spider survey. We’re going to start on 8 July, and we have over 30 houses to visit. We’ll have the goal of doing 6 houses per day, with each house taking half an hour or so to screen. Let me know if you want to participate.

6. The new Spider-Man movie also comes out the week of 4 July. Anyone want to join me some evening that week? My treat, we just have to work out a good day. (Alternatively, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is on Netflix, starting in a few days…we could take over one of the classrooms and project it there.)

7. In other news, I’ve been posting photos of the spiders we meet to iNaturalist, in the Spiders of Minnesota project. We have the honor of the first recorded observation of Pholcus manueli in Stevens county! It was caught right here in the Science Atrium. It’s a good thing we caught it, too, because our diligent custodians eradicate any spider web they encounter.

8. You all saw the article in the Stevens County Times, right?

9. We have an egg sac that’s over a week old in the incubator, laid by Steatoda triangulosa, which isn’t the species I was planning to work on, but I’ll take anything now. The egg case is gauzy and semi-transparent, and you can see the embryos right through it. It could hatch out any day now, giving us a swarm of spiderlings.

So, things to look forward to:

  • Regular spider feedings at noon on Monday and Thursday
  • Mass wedding of a dozen spiders today at noon
  • Spider survey resumes on 8 July
  • Possible S. triangulosa spiderling hatch any day now

Mary has been busy, too

In addition to rescuing her stranded man from airports, Mary has been scouting around for spiders in my absence, and caught a few around the house. This is Parasteatoda tepidariorum, the species I work with in the lab, and she has gone straight into the colony.

P.tep is my favorite: so common, but so interesting.

Welcome to the universe, Larry!

Perhaps you recall the majestic Larinioides I found at Pomme de Terre park almost two weeks ago? It laid a large pink egg sac in the container we had it in, as a present before we released it back into the wild.

Today, or perhaps last night, they started hatching. Here’s a baby Larinioides spiderling, freshly emerged, and looking a bit stunned.

They’re back in the incubator until I see that a few more hatch out, and then they’ll be released to the world.

Spider meeting is done

Waaah. I just have the closing banquet tonight, and then tomorrow is a long travel day home. So what did I learn?

  • Spiders are cool, but I guess I already knew that.
  • Spiders are a jillion times more complicated than I thought, and I’ve got a lot to learn.
  • Spider meetings are small and cozy and nice.
  • I’ve made a list of a dozen experiments that I think are doable by undergrads, and will provide interesting information.
  • I need to get home to start putting these ideas to work.

I guess that’s a pretty good outcome for a meeting, to end it inspired and better informed than I was at the beginning.

Next year AAS2020 will be held in Davis, California. I’m hoping I can fit it into my budget.