The summer is quickly coming to a close and with it, my summer position at BIO, but this isn’t the end for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to secure a part-time position once again working on spiders during the upcoming fall semester. In light of this, I figured I would fill this final blog by listing three of my favourite spider species.
Starting off this list is the Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) which may even be in your own backyard. Preferring flowers, shrubs, and tall plants that receive an abundance of sun, this spider likes to hang out in fields and as its name implies; gardens. This moderately large species is common in Southern Canada and has brightly patterned abdomens with silver haired heads. This is why they were given the genus name Argiope which means something to the effect of gilded silver-face. The yellow garden spider is easily identifiable, but as another means of identification, we can look to the web. In the center of its web lies a dense zigzag pattern known as a stabilimentum. Its function isn’t known exactly, but the best guesses thus far are that it camouflages the spider, attracts tasty insects, or makes the web more conspicuous to flying birds. Next time you’re walking through a sunny field, keep an eye out for these attractive spiders.
Next in my list is the diving bell spider (Argyroneta aquatica) which holds the unique esteem of being the only spider to live entirely underwater. It’s able to do this partly because of the hydrophobic hairs that cover its abdomen and legs. When the diving bell spider submerges itself in water, the hairs capture an air bubble on the abdomen which allows it to breath underwater. This method is used mainly when the spider is actively travelling through the water. When the spider feels like being sessile for a while, it retreats to its underwater web. These webs are heavily modified to function like the diving bells of the 17th century which kept a small pocket of air trapped within its confines. This trapped air provides the diving bell spider with a home in which it can digest prey, molt, and mate. Similarly to human abodes, these webs require constant upkeep. The main chore is repeatedly venturing to the surface and returning with a fresh supply of air for the web. Despite the webs permeability to gas exchange for oxygen and carbon dioxide, there is a net loss of nitrogen which results in a continuously shrinking air bubble. Unfortunately for Canadian arachnologists (but perhaps fortunately for Canadian arachnophobes) these spiders are found only in the freshwater ponds and streams of Europe and Asia.
Rounding out my list is the charismatic peacock spider (Maratus volans) which earns its name from the males unique mating display. Part of what makes this display so interesting is the brilliant abdominal colouring of the males. Any spider with colours like the peacock spider is usually considered ‘cute’ by arachnologists, but the peacock spider is also a member of the jumping spider (Salticidae) family and boasts all the attractive characteristics of the family. Namely large anterior median eyes, tufts of hair, and the shape of the head like segment called the cephalothorax. All these traits in tandem make the peacock spider undeniably cute. When it comes time to mate, the male raises his abdomen and fans out specialized flaps which creates an eye catching, white fringed, and colourful display – a courtship display very similar to actual peacocks. To make himself even more attractive to his potential mate, the male peacock spider conducts a series of abdominal vibrations and leg waves which only bolsters his charming persona. Unless you’re an Australian reader, you’re unlikely to find peacock spiders in your backyard. If this is the case, I highly encourage you to look up videos of this courtship display on the internet. They may entirely change your opinion of spiders!
Thank you to all those that have read my blog throughout the summer months. I hope I was able to entertain and inform at least some of you.