Video of Tarantula Moulting

I’ve tried several times unsuccessfully to video one of my tarantulas moulting. On more than one occasion I’ve timed things just right, set up a camera and got some footage, but either the lighting has been bad, or the focus was out, or the angle was wrong… So I was very pleased this morning when I came across this lovely video from YouTube user Tarantupedia of a Xenesthis sp tarantula going through the entire moulting process.

Apparently it’s 10 hours of footage compressed down to around 5 minutes. The quality is really good, and different parts of the video are sped up more than others to really good effect (it’s normal speed for the really interesting stuff, and speeds up when nothing much happens for a while – some great editing!)

At the start you’ll see the spider’s regular colouration and the baldness of the abdomen (due to shedding urticating bristles since the previous moult). Then there are some excellent close up shots of the spider loosening itself from the exuvium (old skin) and pulling itself free. Notice those bright white fangs! (they are soft in that state so the spider can’t eat for the first few days, they darken as they harden up!) It’s a pity the video doesn’t carry on a little longer and show the Tarantula after it has flipped back up to standing, as it will continue to stretch at that point for a while (it’s effectively using blood pressure to stretch out the new skin) and also to show the new colouration properly before the new skin hardens up.

Anyway, still a great video – hope you enjoy it!

Arachnophobia Cured By Brain Surgery

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating having brain surgery to cure a fear of spiders!  This article is about a “positive side effect” caused by brain surgery on a patient suffering from sarcoidosis.  Apparently the rare condition which affects a number of organs of the body, including the brain, was severe enough in a 44 year old businessman that it was causing seizures.  Doctors decided to operate and removed a very small piece of brain, and since the operation the patient’s fear of spiders had entirely vanished!

Other side effects from the operation apparently waned over time, but his new found lack of arachnophobia stayed with him and appears to be permanent.

Anyway it’s an interesting article so check out the full story at New Scientist, and if you want all the geeky details there is a downloadable paper from Neurocase Journal called Abolition of lifelong specific phobia: a novel therapeutic consequence of left mesial temporal lobectomy  But don’t worry, there are much less invasive ways of curing arachnophobia than having doctors remove part of your brain ;)

School talks and phobias

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share my passion for tarantulas and other creatures with children at a local primary school.  I’d supplied them with some Extatosoma tiaratum (giant prickly stick insect) nymphs which the children are raising as part of a class project on life cycles in nature.  They invited me to talk to them about stick insects and other invertebrates, and can honestly say I’ve never seen a more excited bunch of kids, or been asked quite as many questions, but it was an interesting experience and they seemed to love it.

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I began by showing them some stick insect ova (eggs) and talking through their entire life cycle from eggs, through how they mimic Leptomyrmex ants when they hatch, through the various instars to maturity.  They also had the chance to handle some stick insects which they loved.  The kids asked lots of questions and I was very impressed with some of their knowledge and their enthusiasm.  Most of them however struggled to disguise the fact that they were more excited about something else during my talk though – their teacher had told them that I would also be bringing a tarantula and a snake!

I actually took several tarantulas along, and for obvious reasons they remained securely in plastic enclosures much to the relief of the teacher!  I also took some moulted skins and showed them a slideshow of a tarantula moulting which absolutely fascinated them.  Time flew by and after an hour and rapidly running out of time, the tarantulas were put away and I gave them the chance to get up close and personal with a snake – a young royal python.  For many of them it was their first time touching a snake, and while a few declined most were extremely excited and loved the experience.  A couple of the children were a little scared but plucked up the courage and the beaming smiles on their face afterwards showed how proud they were to conquer their fears.  The biggest achievement however was one of the teachers who had always had a lifelong phobia of snakes.  She had said right from the start that she wanted to touch the snake if she could, and though she was visibly trembling with fear, she gently touched the python with one finger and then held her hands out and I allowed the snake to rest in her palms for a few seconds.  She was certainly very relieved when I took the snake back, but she was really glad she managed it.  After conquering my own phobia it felt really good to be able to help someone else with their own.

I’ve never considered doing anything like this in the past, and I certainly won’t be making it a regular thing, but it was great to share some of my knowledge and passion, and seeing both the children and the adults getting so much out of it.  If anyone reading this keeps tarantulas or other “exotics” themselves and you get the opportunity to do something like this please do – you won’t regret it!

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Tarantula venom as insecticide

fangsIf you follow the scientific press at all, you may well have come across this story over the last couple of weeks.  Some interesting research into the venom of some australian tarantulas has shown potential for a new form of natural insecticide.

Typically the venom of spiders (or any venomous animal for that matter) tends to to effective only if injected (by a bite or sting) which is why, in general, it’s incorrect to call spiders “poisonous” rather than venomous (poison is a toxin which is ingested, venom is one which is injected).  However, recently published research suggest that a protein found in some australian tarantula venom can also kill prey insects when they ingest it, leading to the possibility that if sprayed on crops it could be used as an effective and natural insecticide.

The findings were published by Glen King and Maggie Hardy of the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, and could prove extremely useful in the control of the cotton bollworm, which is considered an important agricultural pest which attacks crops and is currently controlled with a synthetic chemical insecticide.

The authors of the published research hope that the findings could lead to the creation of bio-insecticides, or that gene encoding of the proteins could facilitate the creation of insect-resistant crop plants.

For more info, read the article at ScientificComputing.com

 

Arachnophobic entomologists

I’ve received quite a few emails since starting this site.  Most have been extremely positive, from people with varying degrees of arachnophobia who have been inspired by my story about beating my fear of spiders and want to know more, or want help in overcoming their own fear of spiders.  Some however have been rather negative, telling me that I can’t really have been arachnophobic if I now keep tarantulas!

Well, the fact is that my arachnophobia was VERY real (and still is to a degree – I can’t say that I’m “cured” or 100% over my fear, but it’s now very controllable so I can appreciate a spider’s elegance rather than just run away screaming!)  And now I’ve read that there are professional entomologists with arachnophobia, which I think validates my own story to a degree.  It seems illogical at first that someone who chooses a career studying invertebrates could be afraid of spiders, but according to a blog post on esciencenews.com it’s not as rare as you might expect.

The blog post cites an article to be published in the next issue of American Entomologist which features a survey of 41 arachnophobic entomologists.  While most entomologists tend to have a low score (mild disgust of fear) most indicated that they react differently to spiders than to insects and other inverts.  At the same time, some who responded indicated an extreme phobia.

I wonder how many entomologists with arachnophobia manage to overcome their fear?  I’m guessing a lot more than the general public!

Spiders Can Be Beautiful Too!

peacock-spiderI’m often impressed by the photographic skills of some Flickr users, and every now and then I find a set of pictures on there which wouldn’t look at all out of place in the pages of National Geographic.  This morning I found such a set, and even better it was of an amazing looking species of spider I’d never even heard of before!

Flickr user Jurgen Otto is an arachnologist from Sydney, Australia and so has access to a wide range of exotic species to practice his fantastic photography skills on, but the set that particularly caught my eye was of the Peacock spider (Maratus calcitrans) and I’m sure you’ll agree that these are truly beautifu!

Far removed from the popular image of a “big brown hairy thing with lots of legs”, the males of these small jumping spiders have amazing, iridescent colour patterns on both the prosoma and abdomen, truly rivalling the brilliance of the brightest butterflies.  They are so bright and vivid it’s easy to see how they got their common name.

Not only are these beauties amazing to look at, but they appear to like showing off too!  When a male approaches a female he uses these markings for display, raising his abdomen, legs and spinnerets, and wiggling them from side to side.  Otto has captured this behaviour beautifully in these photos.

Take a look at the entire set, plus loads of photos of other amazing Maratus species such as Maratus splendens, and Maratus speciosus, plus other inverts and reptiles at Flicker.com

(Photo used with permission, © Jurgen Otto 2013)


Update : I found this amazing video, again by Jurgen Otto, of another species of Peacock Spider performing their mating displays.  These little guys are even more interesting when you see them moving… enjoy!

Welcome to Tarantula Care

There’s something rather odd about writing the first post on a blog.  Virtually nobody will ever read this, since at this point the site is brand new and nobody knows it’s here.  Hopefully over time this will grow to be a valued and popular resource for tarantula enthusiasts, but even if it grows to be a large and popular site, how many people are likely to search back through the archives and read this first post?  Not many!

Anyway, I hove you write a first post so here it is… If you did somehow find yourself reading this page then thanks for dropping by, and I hope that by the time you read this the site has grown from this little spiderling into a real goliath, and that there’s lots of much more interesting and useful content here for you ;)