Spider population explosion!

The numbers don’t lie: the results in progress say the spider population has been surging since June (which is, well, not unexpected and won’t get us published in Nature). I’ll be curious to see if it continues to rise in August, and since we’re seeing a fair number of spiderlings everywhere, I expect it will.

We’re already talking about extending the study a couple more months, at least until the first snow, so we can catch the expected decline. The only problem with that is that we can’t do the intensive survey in September and October that we can in July, since I’ll be back to work teaching, and the students will be back to work learning. Maybe we can do a representative subset, though.

Also, I don’t think my bones can handle simultaneously teaching and doing field work. I’m pretty much worn out already, and am getting up in the morning to take prophylactic NSAIDs to keep going. The exercise is good for me, right?

Spiders are tiring me out

It’s been a long day — I’ve decided we can survey 8 sites per day, so we did, in the heat and the dirt, with constant drizzly rain, and by golly, we’ll do it again tomorrow. I look forward to the big pile of data I’ll have at the end of the week, and a nap.

Also, I think I’ve downed a couple of liters of iced tea since I got home.

Spider news!

Wring me out, I’m done. We’re back into the field work this week, and I’m glad we’re doing only 3 one-week sessions this summer. We visited half a dozen sites today, and while most of them were around 30°C, there were a few that were toasty hot and 35°, and they were dusty and cobwebby, too. It was more exhausting than I expected.

The good news, though, is that I’ve recruited an additional student, and it makes a big difference — we can rip through a garage almost twice as fast as before. We set a goal of 6 houses today, and finished by 3:00, so we’re going to line up 8-10 tomorrow. So far, my unsurprising hypothesis is holding up: we’re finding significantly more spiders during these hot midsummer days.

Mondays are also feeding days, so we did a little lab work on top of everything else. We set up a couple new cages, and also introduced a half-dozen new males to the more lonely females. The students got to watch a mating, and some vigorous dining, and Maya has set up a new cage for a different species, Tegeneria.

Everything is cruising along fine and dandy, except for the fact that I’m a sweaty tired mess when I get home. Also, I haven’t quite recovered from my 4-day weekend at Convergence. Productivity is its own reward, though, right?

Respect the spider, don’t fear it

This is a lovely video of a man handling a black widow spider. Really, they aren’t interested in biting you, anymore than you would care to sink your teeth into a mountainside you’re climbing over. You do have to be gentle, though.

I’ve had spiders crawling on me in the lab, and my advice to students is simple: don’t panic, lead them to where you want them to go, and they’ll do you no harm.

The Spider Times

This is my usual weekly mailing to students who expressed an interest in spider research.

Good morning, spider-team. Here’s this week’s mission.

1. Monday at noon is feeding time! Last week we started giving them crickets, in addition to wingless fruit flies, and they gobbled them up. We’re trying to fatten up the ladies to get them to start laying eggs, and I think they’re close — I’m hoping to see egg sacs in their spacious new cages soon.

2. We have some babies! A Steatoda triangulosa that we caught over two weeks ago was already pregnant, and laid a fluffy white egg sac for us. It hatched out over the weekend, and we’ve got a small brood of baby spiderlings (see below). We’ll be separating these out into small vials today. This isn’t the species I’d planned on working on, but this will be good practice for future Parasteatoda tepidariorum spiderlings.

3. There will be another spider-feeding on Thursday at noon. They are quite avid little killing machines.

4. Also on Thursday afternoon, I depart for Minneapolis and Convergence, where I’ll be sitting on a couple of science panels. I’ll be away all weekend.

5. Next week, beginning on the 8th, Phase II of our Stevens County Spider Survey begins. We have an ever-growing list of sites to screen, and I’m also adding a few additional steps to our protocol, so all volunteers will be appreciated. We’ll be going out every day, starting at around 10, for the entire week.

6. My offer to take you out for a night at the movies still stands. I’ll be at the Morris Theater at 7pm on Wednesday for Spider-Man: Far From Home. Let me know if you’re interested — we can also pick apart the science afterwards.

It’s too hot, so I’ve been hanging out with the spider babies

The lab is significantly cooler, at 20°C (the spiders are kept comfortable at 30°C in incubators) and our Steatoda triangulosa egg case has had a few feeble little spiderlings crawling out. Here’s one:

What do you think, adorable or irresistible? It was moving slowly, so it’s alive but still kind of weak and uncoordinated. Give ’em time, they’ll be hunting prey and gamboling about soon enough.

Also, useful information: S. triangulosa takes 17 days from laying to emergence from the egg sac at 30°C. File that away somewhere.

I have a secret friend!

We walked into the lab today, and discovered someone has been helping. There was a gigantic lacy cobweb stretching from the sink across the lab bench to the microscope — we use that scope every day, so we know it wasn’t there yesterday afternoon, but had appeared magically overnight. I tried to photograph it with my phone, holding up a black heating pad behind it to provide contrast, but it was just too wispy and gauzy to capture. If you squint real hard you might see the grayish lines extending from the lower left upwards to the right. And if you can’t, well, you had to be there.

We looked around and couldn’t find the spider. It probably has a cozy cranny it’s cuddled up in when those clumsy humans come bumbling around.

We had to tear the web down because, like I said, we use the scope everyday. I’m hoping our little friend will web up everything else in the lab, though, because my dream would be to come to work in a huge spider web, the walls all cobbed up, and little spiders scurrying everywhere.