Gotta love those spiders.
We recently saw an adorable jumping spider (aren't all jumping spiders adorable?) huddled or cuddled (your preference) within a layer of yellow rose petals. It didn't look like a poster child for Halloween. It looked right at home.
It's still there.
In a March 2019 Bug Squad blog, we posted five good reasons to like spiders, compliments of Professor Jason Bond of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a newly selected co-editor-in-chief of the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity (ISD), published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA).
“Spiders have been around for 400 million years and are cunning, skillful predators," Professor Bond says. They are "an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered."
The five good reasons to like spiders?
- Spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey, mostly insects, each year. Humans consume somewhere around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.
- Spider silk is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. Spider silk is stronger than steel, stronger and more stretchy than Kevlar; a pencil thick strand of spider silk could be used to stop a Boeing 747 in flight.
- Some spiders are incredibly fast – able to run up to 70 body lengths per second (10X faster than Usain Bolt).
- Although nearly all 47,000-plus spider species have venom used to kill their insect prey, very few actually have venom that is harmful to humans.
- Some spiders are really good parents –wolf spider moms carry their young on their backs until they are ready to strike out on their own; female trapdoor spiders keep their broods safe inside their burrows often longer than one year, and some female jumping spiders even nurse their spiderlings with a protein rich substance comparable to milk.
When Professor Bond spoke at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, “Eight-Legged Wonders,” on March 9, 2019, showcasing spiders, he drew scores of questions. Following his talk, the visitors participated in interactive activities, including “How to Eat Like a Spider,” “How to Assemble an Arachnid,” "How to Catch a Moth," "Create a Chelicerate" and others. So educational and entertaining and let's hope another one will be on the calendar in the near future! The Bohart Museum, currently closed to the public due to COVID-19 precautions, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, and also a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and an online insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, and collecting equipment.
Meanwhile, Herman or Hermanina, is basking in the sun, getting ready to substantiate Professor Bond's excellent description: "a cunning, skillful predator."
Suds for a bug! What could be better than that?
It's all part of Shapiro's scientific research to determine the bug's first flight of the year. The good professor, who launched the contest in 1972, maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/.
It's a little too early to start thinking about cabbage white butterflies, but it wasn't too early for a jumping spider.
For several weeks, we've been admiring a jumping spider hanging out on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). Monarchs, Western tiger swallowtails, buckeyes, gray hairstreaks, cabbage whites and assorted other butterflies nectar on it. Our jumping spider (we've named him Herman to distinguish him from the other jumping spiders in our pollinator garden, and besides jumping spiders ought to have a name), nails his share of prey.
So here we are, enjoying a sun spurt on Oct. 30 when a cabbage white butterfly tumbles off the flower as if it were on a bungee cord. A closer look: The butterfly was not alone.
Can jumping spiders win the Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest?
It's not that Herman was just a little bit too early, and the butterfly was just a little bit too slow. Nope.
To claim the prize, you have to deliver the specimen to the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology office at 2320 Storer Hall. Herman neither knows where that is, nor does he care. Plus, the specimen has to be alive, and Herman made sure it wasn't.
Hi, I'm a jumping spider.
I see that you found me on the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
I'm just here for the prey, and you are definitely not prey, so not to worry.
I'm a member of the Salticidae family and my family contains more than 600 described genera and more than 6000 described species. I have eight eyes. Actually, that's four pairs of eyes and three secondary pairs. How many eyes do you have? What, only two? You got robbed!
I'm a pretty good hunter. When I detect a potential prey, I orient myself and swivel. When I'm close enough, I pause and attach a dragline and then I sprint onto my prey. Pretty cool, huh?
People don't really notice me until Halloween and then they craft those awful-looking sticky webs and all kinds of weird looking spiders just to scare everybody. Do you need scaring? Please be kind and not yell at me or throw things at me. Think of Halloween as "Be-Kind-to-a-Spider Day."
So, if you see me, a real rendition of the fake Halloween spider, don't poke me or crush me or ask me how high I can jump. Or how far. I don't get into logistics.
I'm just here for the prey, not the questions.
I did not save a spider yesterday.
Did not save one today, either.
Well, if I had seen one....
ESA usually focuses on insects (spiders are not insects) but ESA is all inclusive in this welcoming world of arthropod diversity.
Their online text is worth repeating:
"March 14 is Save A Spider Day in the U.S. and while Charlotte and Peter Parker have been fighting the good fight to redeem the spider's reputation, arachnophobia is still running rampant, especially in the United States. One study conducted during a freshman entomology class at Colorado State University found that "the most commonly mentioned specific factor in spider fear was bites and the perceived danger of spiders with figures indicat[ing] that spider fear levels of college students in Colorado are substantially higher than those reported from European general populations."But are spiders the nightmare they've always been portrayed to be? Do they bite? Do they carry diseases? Are brown recluse spiders everywhere just waiting to strike?
"First of all, a lot of those spider bites you've heard about weren't actually spider bites. A study in the Journal of Medical Entomology has shown that there are several medical conditions that can be commonly misdiagnosed as spider bites including "bacterial, viral, and fungal infections; vasculitis; dermatological conditions; bites and stings from other arthropods; and miscellaneous causes such as allergies or drug reactions, chemical burns, reactions to poisonous plants, or diabetic ulcers." The study also expanded on the idea that Hobo Spiders are disease-transferring which it turns out, they are not. Other common house spiders have also had their name cleared when it comes to spreading MRSA."
The ESA then turned to the brown recluse spiders, pointing out the misidentification and the false information about bites: "Take this study where an infestation of 2,055 brown recluse spiders was collected in a Kansas home that a family had been living in for many years, all without ever receiving a spider bite."
"So that spider in your cupboard?" ESA asks. "Probably not a brown recluse. It's probably not carrying a disease. And it may have just killed a tick for you. So try saving a spider today, it's worth it."
The last time I saw a spider was on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. It was a jumping spider perched on an almond tree on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It had crossed paths with a winter ant (Prenolepis imparis). Neither wanted to be anyone's Valentine. Neither needed saving.
But I distinctly remember the other spiders I have seen and photographed in our pollinator garden. They didn't need saving, either.
Well, perhaps the prey needed saving...but everybody has to eat!
Like a winter ant. Or a jumping spider.
This winter ant, Prenolepis imparis (as identified by ant specialist Brendon Boudinot, a Ph.D. candidate in the Phil Ward lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), was crawling along a branch of an almond tree last week on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, when it encountered...oops...a jumping spider (Salticidae).
"I'm sure that ant's fate was soon in the cold embrace of that cute spiders chelicerae," quipped entomologist Wade Spencer of the Lynn Kimsey lab, Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Not this time. No arthropods were harmed in the making of this photo.
Winter ants, says Boudinot, "have a lovely life history, being the only species specialized for activity during the 'dead' of winter." They're sometimes called "false honey ants." BugGuide.net calls this an "unfortunate name, since the storage product in the corpulent young workers of these ants is fatty, not sugary."
According to Ant Wiki, the winter ant "nests deep in the ground. It remains underground during the warmest months of the year, and in many parts of its range forages during times when the temperature is much cooler than other ant species will tolerate. Prenolepis imparis avoids competition with most ant species by not being active at the times of the year when other ants are most actively foraging."