This is a blog about spiders (and probably occasionally some other stuff, too)! The idea is that each post will feature accumulations of cool bits of information (‘bytes’) about spiders: spiderbytes. By the way, spiders (usually) do NOT bite, and one of my dreams (for this blog, and in life) is to shift perceptions about spiders from fearsome, aggressive, disgusting etc., to amazing, beautiful, sophisticated, charming, fascinating, elegant, resourceful, mysterious, and many more adjectives that could be used to describe these awesome arthropods!
My mother, given half a chance, will be the first person to tell you that I am an unlikely champion for spiders. She was the one who calmly relocated every spider that invaded my childhood bedroom while I cowered screaming and/or crying in a corner. Times change, though, and here I am: studying courtship behaviour and sexual communication in spiders for my master’s degree, handling black widows on a daily basis. I would not be here had it not been for a series of fortunate events leading me to my mentor and collaborator Samantha Vibert.
I took invertebrate biology as an undergraduate at SFU with Mike Hart, and it was by far the best biology course I have ever had the pleasure of attending. Mike made weeks of lectures on worms and other unlikely creatures mind-blowingly awesome. However, when we started to get behind due to a couple of cancelled lectures, he was willing to skip over spiders and their kin, as he is arachnophobic. Luckily Sam, who was doing her PhD on sexual communication in spiders, was my TA, and she brought live spiders into the lab to make up for some of what we’d missed. At the end of the course, she ended up seeking a summer research assistant from among her students. The job was to help with her study of vibratory courtship signaling in western black widows. A little apprehensive, but game for the challenge of overcoming my own fears and participating in some real research, I applied and got the position. I immediately fell in love with black widows and have been fascinated by spiders and their incredible behaviour ever since.
Currently, I am wrapping up my master’s research and writing my thesis. Starting this blog seems like a great way to
procrastinate exercise my writing muscle as I struggle with the formal writing of my thesis. As I’ve been sifting through the literature for my introductory chapter, I’ve come across so many amazing papers – from basic descriptions of natural history to investigations of the incredibly sophisticated and diverse communication systems of spiders – that I’m having a hard time keeping track of all the cool stuff I’ve learned. One function of this blog will be to concisely summarize some of these stories and organize them so that I can easily remember and come back to them. If anyone else ends up reading and learning something about the incredible biology of spiders, and maybe starts to fear them less and like them a little bit more, it will be a fantastic bonus.
Note: all photos used with permission from Sean McCann.