Lovely eggs!

It’s been one of those days. We’ve got another chemistry job candidate today with a busy schedule, and we’re making him suffer for this position. Flight delays, bad weather, drifting snow…I’m impressed that he made it all. Shortly I have to do my own bit of suffering, attending his job talk. I’m sure it will be good, but I’m not a chemist, and I know what to expect. It’ll start off gently enough, with alcohols & alkenes & alkynes, names I’ll recognize, and then within minutes I’ll be lost in exotic reactions with wild catalysts and I’ll have no idea what’s going on.

But before that, happy news from the lab: after a long dry spell, we have a new egg sac!

Are they not luscious and beautiful? I think two things might have uncorked an oviduct: I’m teaching fly genetics, which means we get an excess of flies, and everything that doesn’t get used in our crosses gets showered upon the happy spiders; and we spent a day adjusting humidity in the cages, which seems to have been one of the triggers.

Now…off to organic chemistry.

Rapacity

It was the first day of fly lab in genetics. I prepare well in advance, setting up stocks of the red-eyed, scarlet-eyed, and brown-eyed flies the students will need for their very first cross, and I always prepare an excess. The students only need about a dozen flies for this first experiment, and I give them hundreds, just in case. They figure out how to tell males from females, distinguish the different eye colors, how to set up the culture media, and how to carefully set up a defined cross. They got it done.

At the end of lab, I do the clean up. I’ve got containers full of anesthetized flies. I pour them all together, red with scarlet with brown, and then take the small mound of sleeping flies to my lab, where the horror begins.

I think my spiders love the semester I teach genetics, because we generate such a surplus. I made hundreds of extra flies this week, in two weeks the students will generate thousands more, and once they’ve scored them and set up the F1 cross, where do you think the leftovers end up? My lab. Where I just shovel all these unconscious flies into the spiders’ cages.

I have to imagine it from the flies’ point of view. One moment they’re happily frolicking, mating, and laying eggs in a paradise for flies, the next they’re knocked out while the humans tinker with them. Then the majority later wake up in a strange barren box. They groggily stir, rise up, and try to fly away, only to get snagged on the lines of silk strung everywhere. There is no escape. They struggle, they see many of their peers similarly trapped, and then…the spider creeps out and industriously starts wrapping everyone up. Helpless, they can only wait until their turn to be envenomated and sucked dry.

To the spiders, it’s like Christmas. And that makes me Santa Claus.

You should see the spiders right now. It’s just rapacious gluttony everywhere. It’s glorious.

More males!

I mentioned yesterday that I had hit a roadblock: my spider colony was reduced to nearly all females! Those dang feminists have taken over everything.

Some good news today, though. My student’s set of breeding spiders included two more males, so I’m now up to four studs I can rotate around. This is an interesting observation, actually, that males kept in solitary are far more likely to die. These additional males had been sharing cages with females for the last month and a half, where they’d been thriving in connubial bliss. I guess this isn’t surprising, since mature males tend to be much more active, scampering about the landscape looking for mates, so confining them to a convenient container is almost certainly more stressful for them.

Today’s mating efforts were not visibly successful. The males were tentative, but did approach the females, and began with gentle stroking of the ladies abdomens, and the females did respond with a typical butt-waggle, but nothing went further while I was watching. I’ve given them some privacy now, I hope they’ll successfully mate overnight…because tomorrow the males have a date scheduled with a different female.

They also looked a bit worn-out today — I hope that’s a good sign.

Now what?

This morning was supposed to be hot sexy breeding time: I had set aside ten very large, pulchritudinous, eager virgin females in special containers where they could build a cozy little silky nest, and then I had a larger pool of smaller young’uns to draw some lucky males from. I went through that pool first thing, and what do I find? Only two males. Everyone else is female.

This is thanks to the fact that males are generally smaller, weaker, and less robust, and there’s been slow attrition of the population over the last month or two that selectively weeds out males. This is not good. This is going to be a bit of a bottleneck. I’ve got 24 eager females and only two males to service them.

I guess what I’m going to do is pair up the males with a different female every day, rotating them through a harem. Unfortunately, this harem is hungry and out-muscles their partners by quite a bit, so it might be more like a gauntlet, and those two males are going to end up at best exhausted, and at worst, dead.

I also have one egg sac that will hatch out by the end of the month, but it will take another 4-6 weeks beyond that before any males will be ready to get to work. These females are ripe, can they wait that long?

Australians have all the luck

They’ve got the best spiders. Here’s an Australian broadcast about spider murder methods, full of stories about gymnastic assassins and netcasting ogres. It was making me jealous, especially given that the spiders here are all huddled under a thick blanket of snow and aren’t coming out for another four or five months.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve also got Christmas spiders! There are colorful spiders that are scurrying around right now called Christmas spiders or jewel spiders, and they are gorgeous. Now I want some Christmas ornaments based on these spiders for my tree. Unfortunately, if you search for “Christmas spider ornaments”, you get ornaments that look nothing like Christmas spiders. What do those look like? I’ve hidden one picture below the fold.

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