This is a blog about spiders!

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.

A male western black widow courts a female on her web.

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.

28 thoughts on “This is a blog about spiders!

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    • This is Latrodectus mactans (the southern black widow). But even western widows can get to be this large. Great video by Thomas Shahan!

      • Wow, cool.

        I used to be afraid of all arachnids. I realized this is a silly “learned fear” and overcame it. I also preach this often to people. Especially in Chicagoland, where there is not really an abundance of arachnid-based dangers. And even then, these aforementioned dangers are blown out of proportion. However, there was a catalyst in overcoming my fear and this occurred on island of Guam. I had a close encounter with the largest spider I had ever seen. As big as my head though more petite than a Goliath Bird Eater, it was comparable in circumference. I figured, sheesh, there isn’t much left to endure, what’s the point? Because I don’t fear them and I believe they do serve an important purpose, I let them be in my house.

        I have an additional question if you don’t mind?

        I am in Illinois, Chicagoland. Yellow Sacs. I usually let them be, however, I have read some (not so legit) pieces that I should beware. What do you think?

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  4. A friend of mine spent a few weeks in the jungles of Guyana and took a pic of a spider that the locals had never seen before. I would like to share the pic but I do not know how to post a pic. Any ideas?

    • Don’t think there is any way to post photos in the comments… if you like you could email it to me? catherine.scott [at] mail.utoronto.ca

  5. I am having trouble identifying a spider I have a photo of it I would like some help
    with this if possible. I do not see it in any of the photos here

  6. Shortly after I heard your podcast about Spiders on PBS, I discovered a Zigzag spider in my house (she usually hangs out at the front door). I put her back outside and enjoyed seeing her there scaring folks coming in and out of the house. A day or two later, I discovered her egg sac in an empty laundry basket near the front door (but in the house). The entire laundry basket is now outside under the picture window, almost under a bush…somewhat protected from rain (but do they need moisture?) and somewhat protected from the elements (but not closely protected…we’ve already had a gale that blew it several feet into that bush. So, I would like to make sure these babies are well-protected for the winter. I can cut up the laundry basket and put them in another place. The bushes near the house are gardenias, Indian hawthorne, Virginia creeper, azaleas (this is the mostly “landscaped” non-native front yard). In every other area of my yard, there are herb gardens, berry bushes and a lot of native plants. There is one huge Pineapple Sage that I am trying to winter-over, next to a shed in a sheltered area. That area had its own Zigzag spider already though. Okay, any suggestions? Thank you and best regards. Loretta

  7. Love your tweets, and so happy to finally click through to your blog! I’m a science poet for young readers, and my next collection (March 2021) is Spi-ku: a Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs – in the final stretch with the fabulous illustrator before going to printer in the summer! Thanks for all of your sharing and best of luck with your work!

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