Learning to love spiders

How far would you travel to hear a talk about spiders? On Friday night we decided to visit the Castlemaine Field Naturalists’ Club to listen to a presentation about spiders. Quite a few others had the same idea which seemed to surprise the club as more and more chairs were brought out.

Lynne Kelly is a great speaker, she spoke with  humour and knowledge of her subject . Lynne freely admits she was afraid of spiders and overcame her fear to  be now besotted with them. Many of the spiders in her house and garden now end up with names as their behavior is tracked and photographed.Lynne’s has written a book called “Spiders Learning to Love Them” which covers her journey learning about spiders to becoming obsessed with them. She is a science writer with 14 books to her credit. She mentioned the opportunities to be able to do original science if you study the spiders around you.

There is virtually no-one looking at spider behavior as there is still much work to do in identifying the hundreds of species already collected. I hope some of the several children who attended the talk were as interested as the adults and take up the study of spiders. Lynne lives in Castlemaine and you may read about her spiders at spiderblogger.

We heard about a garden orb weaver spider called “Wonderful” which has about 6 different types of silk in her web and how she rests with one claw out on a strand to be alert to anything becoming trapped in the web. There were some great photos of an orb weaver moulting which may be a very dangerous time for a spider with the likelihood of a leg being trapped and the lost or damaged in the process.

Daddy Longlegs spiders like to eat the white-tailed spiders and have fine filaments of web throughout your house to detect movement. White-tailed spiders have the reputation of causing necrosis of the skin if you are bitten, but recent research has disproved this myth. Spiders may bite and some people are allergic to them.

“Theresa” the wolf spider was an obvious favorite of Lynne’s with over 3 thousand photos taken.  Apparently when spiders take over your life you think about how the are going in the long dry summer and may consider giving them a gentle spray of water to them keep hydrated. They are part of the ecosystem after all. How would some birds build their nests if there weren’t spider webs?

House spiders make most people shudder but Lynne has spent a lot of time studying the ones in her house. There was an interesting photo of a widow where each pane of glass was numbered to record each different spider. They will drop a leg if attacked and 10-20% of house spiders have 7 legs or less. White-tails eat house spiders and Lynne admits to intervening if a white-tail gets too close to her favorite house spiders. They have a trick of making themselves look like a male house spider to attract them in for the kill.

Some spiders have excellent eyesight but a lot use the hairs on their bodies to sense movement. There are also chemical sensors in the hairs. Wolf spiders use eyesight and hairs to sense movement and prey. There is obviously a lot to learn about spider so if you can overcome your initial fear. Perhaps start with some of the little flower spiders and you may be on an interesting scientific journey.

Windows are a good site to identify spiders as you are able to get a great view of the underside which is often important to accurately identify species. Lynne mentioned this spider site which is a working draft for “A Field Guide to the Spiders of Australia” by Robert Whyte and Dr Greg Anderson for CSIRO Publishing due to be published in 2014-15.

Some of the books I use to learn about about spiders include:

Spiders of Bendigo and Victoria’s Box-Ironbark Country by Jennifer Shield and still available from the Bendigo Field Naturalist Club.

Spiders and Scorpions Commonly Found in Victoria by Ken. Walker, Alan L. Yen & A. Millage.

Spiderwatch a guide to Australian Spiders by Bert Brunet.

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