New spider housing!

I got some excellent suggestions from Nicholas DiRienzo for raising spiders, which is why it’s good to get information online, and also why I’m going to the American Arachnology Society conference this weekend. You can get started with reading stuff, but there’s no substitute for hearing it straight from the experts.

We checked out the couples we’d put together in larger spaces yesterday, and sadly, I caught one in the act of cannibalism…poor guy. We separated them. Then I rummaged in my collection of zebrafish containers, and found some 5.7L Sterilyte containers, a bit smaller than Dr DiRienzo recommended, but we’ll give them a try. We moved a few females into them right away so they can start getting used to the expanded digs. We’re going to also add some cardboard liners, once we find a box that fits.

I was initially daunted about the space required — it was appealing to just have oodles of spiders in a small incubator — but once I started stacking these things, I realized I could pack maybe as many as 50 females into the space I’d previously used for my zebrafish setup. Sorry, fishies, it’s now an arachnid facility.

My summer student, Preston Fifarek, has wisely chosen to name the female spiders after characters from Game of Thrones. Males are going to get Lord of the Rings names. I’ll be interested to see how well Cersei takes to Bilbo.

Do you feel the fear of Christ yet?

The Legion of St Ambrose looks like a gang of video game cosplayers. They threaten to dab you.

They also have some kind of manifesto online. It’s the usual theocratic noise: church schooling, patriarchy, mandatory Christianity, anti-“bankers” (we all know what they mean by that) and of course, white nationalism.

An interesting twist: they’re “environmental”, meaning they want to ban pesticides, GMOs, and factory farming. They also think healthcare should be a right, but they also want to emphasize “natural” medicines. No more private prisons, either, but also no abortions, ever.

It’s a novel evolution of Christian conservatism. The funny costumes make it hard to take them seriously, though.

My day is all booked up already

I have plans, so many plans.

First, I’m going into the lab to examine yesterday’s handiwork. We attempted to breed two pairs of spiders yesterday, moving them into two different kinds of larger chambers. My concern is that the vials we keep them in are too small for two spiders and that one of the reasons I’m seeing so much cannibalism of the males is because of overcrowding. If all goes well, I’ll find two females and two live males today. If that works, I’m going to turn my incubator into a fornucopia and pair up all the males with mates. I’d like, for a change, to have more embryos than I know what to do with.

Then we’re surveying some more garages. I’ve arbitrarily set a one week window for data collection in June, so that will be done tomorrow.

This afternoon I have to transcribe all the data into my computer — right now I’ve got a pile of folders and scribblings on paper for each site. I’m keeping paper records of everything (hey, election officials — it’s a good idea!), but I’ve got to get it organized in one place so I can wrap my head around it.

One of the things I have to sort out is some of the bigger picture data. I’m being scrupulous about data privacy — every site is encoded on a master list, and then the individual site data is stored without direct reference to the homeowners (which is good, I planned ahead thinking people might not want it known how many spiders occupy their property), but now I’m seeing glimmerings of interesting spatial distributions of species. I might want to make a map at some point.

In some ways, the data so far is kind of boring. Because we restricted ourselves to one narrow kind of environment, garages and sheds, we’re seeing the same beasties everywhere: Pholcus and Steatoda and Parasteatoda. That’s good for our sanity, because we’re brand new at this spider game, so reducing the number of taxa we have to master simplifies everything. We know, though, that there are hundreds of species around here, and we only occasionally see an orb weaver or funnel web spider or ground spider in these dusty musty cobwebby garages. We might want to think about sampling other sites in the future.

For instance, houses around Lake Crystal here in town have been stunning when we walk up to knock on the front door — the houses are covered in webs, there are swarms of mosquitos and mayflies everywhere, we start out convinced that this place is going to a time-consuming nightmare to sort out. Then we walk into the garage, and dang, it’s nothing but Theridiidae and Pholcidae again, and not particularly rich in them, either. We’re focused on these sheltered mini-environments while there’s a riot going on outside. Maybe at some point, if I get a student interested in that sort of thing, we’ll just stake out an area on the lakeshore and go centimeter by centimeter through that more complex space.

Right now, though, just the relationships between these few species in our limited environment are going to take a while to puzzle out. Garages are either infested with Pholcus or Parasteatoda, but mixed distributions are less common. Will we see shifts over the summer? Do the pholcids, known predators of other spiders, gradually take over? Is there something in the environment that favors one species over another?

We’re also seeing some interesting granularity in the species distribution, which is one reason I’m thinking of mapping. We find Parasteatoda tepidariorum everywhere, it’s probably the most common spider in these sites. But then we found one house that was all S. triangularis, and two widely separated houses with lots of S. borealis. Just chance? Are there little enclaves of these species, like ethnic neighborhoods, that persist over time? If we go door-knocking and check other houses in these neighborhoods, will we find larger patterns?

I haven’t even started on the lab studies. Once we get steady production of embryos, we’re going to start with some simple studies of the effect of temperature on rate of development, seeing if we can induce diapause, that sort of thing, all with the aim of figuring out how spiders survive living in a place where temperatures drop to -20°C every winter. My summer months are split with one week of taxonomic studies to three weeks in the lab, so that’s actually going to take up more of our time soon.

I feel like I’m getting sucked down into a spider hole. It’s delightful! I recommend it! You should all join us down here!

You think spiders are weird? At least I’m not working on turkeys.

Those birds are creepy.

They began with a taxidermically prepared female turkey model and a pen of active males. In order to learn what specifically gets a turkey visually interested in making more turkeys, the two men slowly removed parts of the turkey model, one by one. They detached the feet, the wings, and eventually the entire body of the taxidermied turkey until the stick-mounted head and neck, held like the grimmest puppet, remained.

In their paper “Stimulae Eliciting Sexual Behavior” the scientists write: “Male turkeys presented a body without the head displayed but did not mount. Presenting the head alone (upright) released display behavior followed by ‘mounting’ and copulatory movements immediately posterior to the head.”

That’s a bit of evidence that bozo defending the missionary position didn’t consider. See? Turkey faces are a potent visual stimulus to other turkeys, even when decapitated and impaled on a stick.

I don’t understand how non-vegetarians can even bear to eat those things.

My house: ground zero in the Northern Empire of Spiders

We were out spider-huntin’ again today, adding more data to the collection, and finding this Steatoda, which is about as big as they get. We’ve captured a couple of representatives of this species now, but they’re all female.

We limit the number we capture to one or two a day, because we don’t want to perturb the local populations too much. I’m only planning to breed Parasteatoda tepidariorum, though, so I’m going to have to do something with the other species we find…I’m probably going to release them all at my house, since I did so much collecting here that the population is hopelessly messed up already, which may turn my house into a weird little hotbed of exotic spider diversity.

I wonder if that will increase the property value? It should.

Free speech is in danger, call out the military

Mike Adams, the so-called Health Ranger of Natural News, a cranky wooey conspiracy theory site, has finally been banned by Facebook, after earlier being kicked off Twitter and YouTube. He is so pissed off at his profit stream being pinched that he has called on Trump to invade and take over social media.

Adams, who claims to be a “food scientist,” also published a nearly hour-long rant on the video platform Brighteon complaining about the Facebook suspension and saying that President Donald Trump should use “the military, if necessary, to occupy and dismantle the tech giants.”

“The tech giants are the modern fascists. They are more dangerous than Adolf Hitler in terms of their long term threat to humanity. How many humans will be subjected to genocide? How many humans will be murdered by abortion policies?” Adams asked. “How many children will be killed by vaccines? How many people will be harmed by 5G cell networks or geoengineering of the atmosphere?”

I’m kind of sympathetic to the idea of the big tech companies getting taken down a notch, but not because of the imaginary threat of vaccines or cellular networks or chemtrails or chemotherapy — but because they’ve evolved monopoly power. It’s kind of missing the point of free speech when you call out the army to take over control of media.

But then Mike Adams has always be a gibbering nutcase.

What paleo diet?

I keep hearing about this imaginary paleolithic diet, and I wonder how they know, and also find it strange that there was apparently one people a 100,000 years ago, and they all ate the same things. Everything about it seems wrong.

Now there is some evidence that humans were roasting starchy tubers in their caves.

Based on plants that would have been locally available, Stone Age people likely cooked tubers and roots in the cave, the scientists say. Compared with raw starchy plants, their cooked counterparts would have provided an especially efficient source of glucose, and thus energy, to people. Human fossils previously found in the coastal cave, located at Africa’s southern tip, also date to around 120,000 years ago.

Ancient starch eating at Klasies River Cave supports the possibility that Homo sapiens evolved genetic upgrades to help with digesting hard-to-break-down starch long before people started farming starchy crops in Africa around 10,000 years ago. Scientists have determined that people today carry more copies of starch-digestion genes than did Stone Age populations, such as Neandertals and Denisovans.

Ancient humans in southern Africa likely ate a mix of cooked roots and tubers, shellfish, fish and game animals, Larbey’s team says. Roots and tubers would have been available year-round. And while little is known about the origins of cooking, campfires were being built at least 300,000 years ago in Africa.

Well, maybe there is something to this paleo diet stuff, because I started salivating. I don’t have any shellfish or game, but I’m thinking now that dinner tonight might be some roasted tubers seasoned with some of the herbs my wife is growing in her garden. Our many-times-great grandparents weren’t stupid people. We might as well give those starch-digestion enzymes they bestowed on us a happy workout!

Meet the Schlafly Family

Goddamn Monday morning. What’s the first thing that pops up when I open the computer? John Oliver, which is not a problem, but he had to remind me about Phyllis Schlafly. She was a horrible person. She was on TV all the time in the 1970s, spewing her horrible views and motivating a horrible mob with horrible lies. A few of them are mentioned here.

Not mentioned, though, are her horrible sons. There’s Roger Schlafly, Trumpkin, racist, white nationalist, sexist, hater of Einstein. Worse still, Andrew Schlafly, creationist, founder of Conservapædia, the guy who is rewriting the Bible to bring it more in line with conservative views, pathological pedant (he really hates it when you use ligatures in the name of his site), general conservative caveman. Although he’s easy to overlook because he’s hidden from the media for almost 30 years, there’s also John Schlafly, who was exposed as gay, yet still ferociously defended his mother’s fanaticism.

The whole family is fucked up. I don’t understand why, because while they were all home-schooled, which you’d think would have expanded their mother’s malignant influence, but Phyllis seemed to spend an awful lot of time away from the family, screeching about liberals, which ought to have diminished her taint, but seems instead to have potentiated it.

Anyway, I didn’t need that reminder to get my day started, so I’ve inflicted her on you out of spite.