Meet the spiders in your house with Travis McEnery!

Have you ever found a spider in your home and wondered whether or not you should evict it? If you are a dedicated arachnophile, perhaps you peacefully coexist with spiders no matter their size or habits. But not all spider housemates are equally polite, and you may want to be a little more selective about which spiders you accept as tenants. Some important considerations include the following: Will they make messy cobwebs and leave prey remains around the place, or are they tidy and discreet? Do they hang out in their webs all day, or move around the house, popping up in unexpected places to startle you with erratic movements? And is there any risk of the spiders defending themselves by biting human, feline, or canine members of the household? 

The answers these questions (and many more) can be found in the outstanding new youtube series The Spiders in Your House created by “amateur” arachnologist Travis McEnery. This post is an introduction to the series and Travis. I am a huge fan of both, and you should be too! 

One of Travis’ first videos, focused on the Common House Spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum).

These videos are deeply researched, thoughtful, and often hilarious profiles of spiders that you can probably find in or around your own house. I am continually impressed by Travis’ ability to get to the bottom of questions about the spiders he covers. I put “amateur” in scare quotes above when describing him because Travis’ approach to arachnology and the videos he creates is anything but. As a professional arachnologist myself I have learned something new in almost every video (like what was really behind that Mazda recall blamed on yellow sac spiders!), and Travis is directly contributing to spider science through original observations and experiments (he is the creator of my new favourite experimental method for assessing spider biteyness: the cheese test).

Hit play on this video to see the cheese test in action, but definitely also go back to the beginning and watch the whole thing! This episode on yellow sac spiders is just fantastic.

Through his videos, Travis is breaking down barriers between lay people, casual arachnofiles, and professional arachnologists by not only presenting information from the scientific literature in a fun and accessible way, but also by going directly to the scientists behind the studies to get additional context on their findings and sharing what they have to say with the audience. Also, the theme song absolutely slaps.

Click play to hear the theme song.

Another reason I love Travis’ work on this series is that he is constantly learning and sharing that process with the audience. When a fellow arachnologist pointed out a small mistake in one of his videos (on the false widow spiders), he made a whole new video correcting it and in the process shone a light on the messiness of science (we all make mistakes, all the time, and learning from them is a big part of science!) and the value of open communication, collaboration, and a supportive community. This ended up being one of my favourites!

The video correcting a mistake in the episode on false widow spiders.

Head over to Travis’ youtube channel for more excellent videos, consider subscribing, and let him know what you think in the comments! He is super responsive to questions and suggestions, and I am sure you will enjoy learning from him as much as I do! You can also support him and find even more content on his Patreon.

For a bit more information on Travis and his motivation for the series, here’s a piece in The Globe and Mail in which I also appear (talking about the spread of misinformation about spiders). I often lament the lack of factual information about spiders on the internet, and I am extremely happy to see Travis contributing such excellent content and the overwhelmingly positive response to it.

AAS 2021 Virtual Meeting: an invitation to all arachnophiles!

The American Arachnological Society is hosting a Virtual Conference Thursday June 24 – Thursday July 1. A keynote talk by Maydianne Andrade will open the meeting on the evening of the 24th. Program highlights include plenary talks by Mercedes Burns, Lauren Esposito, and Ivan Magalhães; oral and poster presentations; and a panel discussion and workshop on actions to dismantle racism and promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in arachnology.

All arachnologists and arachnid enthusiasts are invited, and there is still time to register (only 20 USD) for the meeting and the associated events before the deadline, which is Monday June 14. Don’t miss this chance to participate in workshops on arachnid photography, collecting, and more, two movie nights (featuring Maratus and Sixteen Legs), a photography and art contest, and a virtual arachnid bioblitz!

Freely accessible & family-friendly events include a public talk about arachnids by Jillian Cowles, author of Amazing Arachnids (this talk will be livestreamed on youtube on Sunday June 27) and an Arachnid Q&A livestream with Isa Betancourt, host of The Bugscope (Saturday June 26).

Science Borealis: vote for your favourite Canadian science blog!

I am honoured and a bit embarrassed to announce that SpiderBytes is in the running for the Science Borealis People’s Choice Award for “Canada’s Favourite Science Blog.” Honoured, because I am proud to be part of the Science Borealis network of Canadian science blogs! And embarrassed, because I have posted exactly two things here in the last year. In my defence, I have been in the thick of pursuing a PhD, but I will take this as a challenge to blog a bit more in the upcoming year (my final one, if all goes well, as a PhD student!).

A male black widow engaged in web reduction behaviour, one of my favourite ways male spiders use silk during mating interactions. This is one of several behaviours featured in the first paper of my PhD thesis. Photo: Sean McCann.

Despite only adding one new post this year, a lay summary of the first paper of my PhD thesis (a review of all the weird and wonderful was male spiders use silk during courtship and mating), the blog has seen a lot of traffic since last September. The vast majority of views (averaging about 10,000 per week) have been visits to the Recluse Or Not page and the associated post How to tell if a spider is not a brown recluse. I am very pleased with the traction that the Recluse or Not project (a collaboration with my wonderful colleagues Matt Bertone and Eleanor Spicer Rice), has gotten both here and on twitter and it makes me feel a little less sheepish about being nominated!

Header image for our Recluse or Not page illustrating some of the many spiders that are commonly mistaken for recluses in North America. From left: yellow sac spider, running crab spider, male southern house spider, brown recluse. Photos: Matt Bertone.

Please go vote for your favourite blogs (see all the nominees here) and thanks very much for stopping by! I’ll endeavour to add some more content in the upcoming months since it’s prime time for spiders here in Vancouver!


Hasta luego, Honduras!

Tomorrow Sean and I will land back home in Canada (to take a strategic break from fieldwork in Honduras). While it’s unfortunate that our current trip is being cut short, the future looks bright. When we return in a couple of months, not only will we continue our study of Red-throated Caracaras, it looks like we will also be participating in some serious arachnology! No doubt lots of cool discoveries are waiting to be made, and we will continue to blog about both projects. Already during our time in Honduras we’ve found plenty of awesome spiders that will be featured in future posts. For now, please enjoy these lovely jumping spiders (all photos by Sean McCann)!




Heading to Honduras

It’s been quiet here for the last couple of weeks because I’ve been busy wrapping up loose ends in the lab, visiting family, putting all my worldly possessions into storage, and packing, in preparation for a big field trip. Today, Sean and I will travel to Honduras (via Dallas, Houston, and Miami) to study Red-throated Caracaras (awesome raptors that are specialist predators of social wasps) in an area where they are threatened. We will do extensive surveying and hopefully radio-tracking of the birds to get some basic data to inform conservation efforts. Sean will be blogging about our efforts at

This is what all the gear we’ll need for 3 months of field work looks like. (Photo: Sean McCann)

Believe it or not, all that stuff fit into our 4 bags!

Somehow, all that stuff fits into these 4 bags! (Photo: Sean McCann)

This work is the continuation of Sean’s PhD, and although it’s not spider-related, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go along and assist with field work in such an exotic location. While we’re in the field, I’ll be working on writing up my thesis on sexual communication in black widows. Of course, as we explore the department of Olancho in search of Caracaras, we will also be keeping an eye out for cool spiders (and other arthropods)! If it’s anything like our last field expedition to French Guiana, we’ll find no shortage of amazing creatures to observe and photograph. I hope to blog regularly about all the wonders Honduras has in store for us, so stay tuned for updates from the field!

Red-throated Caracaras (Ibycter americanus)

Our main goal is to find lots of these! (Photo: Sean McCann)


But I am looking forward to seeing lots of these too! (Photo: Sean McCann)

Spider Bytes from #SpiderMonday

I participated in a ‘thesis bootcamp’ last week, which basically means I was locked in the library all day (food was brought in!) writing and attending workshops. This was great for getting lots of *serious* thesis writing done, which really needs to be happening right now, but means I haven’t had much time to write blog posts. Instead, for today, I’ve gleaned a selection of great spidery blog posts from all the awesome arachnophiles who tweeted spider and web-related stuff for #SpiderMonday last week. Enjoy!

@docdez posted spider highlights from the journal of the Entomological Society of BC. Be sure to click the links to the JESBC covers for beautiful drawings of spiders by Robb Bennett and Wayne Madison!

A very patient and creative person used red thread to repair damaged spider webs!

@LeslieBrunetta posted a collection of lovely images of spider webs from Norway

Some wonderful photographs of the amazing green lynx spider by @emckiernan13

@ibycter highlighted some of the exotic spiders we have in North America. Here’s one of them:

Sitticus fasciger (photo credit: Sean McCann)

Sitticus fasciger (photo credit: Sean McCann)

Two great posts by @AndyBugGuy: tiger beetles for lunch and an incredible many-faced spider

Beautiful photos of araneus marmoreus with information on spider gentalia and mating from @tcmacrae

The usual Monday linkfest at Expiscor by @CMBuddle was exclusively spider related stuff

Finally, try your hand at identifying which of these photos by @Myrmecos are of spider silk (I got it quite wrong), then check out the answers with full, uncropped images