Today we’re going to discuss an animal that can make wind sails, cast nets, produce its own antifreeze, and is an A-list impersonator. Well, it’s not one animal, but a category of animals – spiders!
And my guest today, Dr. Sarah Rose, is here to tell us all about it. Dr. Rose is the author of a spectacular new field guide, Spiders of North America from Princeton University Press, is chair of the American Arachnological Society’s Common Names Committee, and has a PhD in Restoration Ecology from The Ohio State University.
Today we discuss Sarah’s journey to spiders, including her research into how spiders function as indicator species for habitats and ecosystems. Sarah tells us about the varied lifestyles of spiders, ranging from orb web weavers to sensing web weavers to ambush hunters, and more. We talk about different types of webs, spider guilds, profile some particularly interesting species such as the trash-line orb weaver, bolus spiders, and ant mimicking spiders, and much more.
There is so much more that we could have discussed, so please let me know what else you’d like to hear, and perhaps we can have a part two!
And be sure to check Sarah’s YouTube channel which has lots of fun spider videos.
And check below for more fun photos!
Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at email@example.com, and I’ll try to get an answer! I’ll add these Q&As to my monthly newsletter, so if you aren’t already subscribed, go here. I promise, no spam. I share the latest news from the world of Nature’s Archive, as well as pointers to new naturalist finds that have crossed my radar, like podcasts, books, websites, and more.
While you are welcome to listen to my show using the above link, you can help me grow my reach by listening through one of the podcast services (Apple, Google, Stitcher, etc) linked on the right. And while you’re there, will you please consider subscribing?
Links To Topics Discussed
People and Organizations
All Bugs Go To Kevin – Facebook group Dr. Rose mentioned
Lucas the Spider – a YouTube channel with a cute animated jumping spider. 3.5 Million subscribers!
Spider Guilds – Cardoso et al
Books and Other Things
Note: links to books are affiliate links
Common Spiders of North America by Richard Bradley and Steve Buchanan (illustrator)
Spiders of North America, An Identification Manual, by Darrell Ubick (Editor), Pierre Paquin (Editor), Paula Cushing (Editor), Nadine Dupérré (Illustrator)
The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Spellbound by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9616-spellbound
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://brianholtzmusic.com
Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed
Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/
Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.
[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Sarah, thank you so much for making the time to talk with me today about the wonderful world of spiders.
[00:00:05] thanks for having me.
[00:00:06] Michael Hawk: I always like to find out for my guests really how they got interested in the passions that they’re pursuing. So I’m wondering like, maybe even backing up more than that, where did you grow up and how did you get interested in nature in the first?
[00:00:19] Sarah Rose: I’m originally from England but my dad worked in the aircraft industry, so we moved around a lot. Almost like a military brat. I went to like 16 different schools between elementary and high school. So where did I grow up? All over the place, but the advantage to that, Because we were constantly moving.
[00:00:39] Our family didn’t do family vacations and take trips places because we were always moving. So instead what we would do is we’d do like mini trips out to local things to get to know the local flora and fauna . So when we lived in Seattle, we would take a day trip to Mount St.
[00:00:55] Hollands type of thing. And it just really got me curious and my parents really did inspire this of what’s here what’s to know about what’s here that can hurt you, that you should be looking out for? What’s interesting that’s only found here. So we did all these little exploratory trips every place that we lived, and it just gave me this real understanding of how broad and diverse and different things are in different places.
[00:01:18] Michael Hawk: I guess the positive side effect of constantly moving is lots of exposure to new habitats and new things. When did you realize though, that you were really interested in spiders, that was a outsized interest for you?
[00:01:30] Sarah Rose: So I, I’ve always loved spiders. I think they’re just really awesome. They’re engineering feats with making their webs and how they hunt and take down a lot of the things that we don’t like. And I guess I never really thought of it as a, an oversized interest or that they, I was really, some, it was something different than most people until when I was an undergraduate at the Ohio State University.
[00:01:53] I did a summer up at their Stone lab, which is on an island in Lake Erie. And I took Field Zoology there with Dr. Michael Hogarth and we had to do a field collection of various. Mainly insects, but pretty much anything that we were allowed to collect. And I just really loved looking at all the different spiders and it’s such a huge diversity of spiders right there.
[00:02:18] And he then put me in touch with Richard Bradley, who’s the author of Common Spiders of North America. And just went, if you’re that interested, maybe there’s some ways for you to learn a little bit more.
[00:02:28] Michael Hawk: So was that the point where you really recognized that maybe this was going to be your career? Spider research, spider observation publishing. I don’t even know how to describe it.
[00:02:39] Sarah Rose: No, not really. So I knew I had a passion for biology and all living things, and so I got my bachelor’s degree and then I was actually working on a bird project. Where we were going out and checking nesting success for various birds in a rural to urban gradient. And while you’re wandering around looking for bird nest, you happen to come across a lot of spiders too.
[00:03:01] And so I always had my camera with me and was photographing the spiders and actually was talking to the PI on the project about the fact that there were different spiders in the rural sites compared to the urban sites. And she was the one that pushed me, that I should go to grad school and maybe do some research on different spider communities.
[00:03:17] Michael Hawk: I’m sorry, what is pi?
[00:03:19] Sarah Rose: A primary investigator.
[00:03:21] Michael Hawk: Ah oh,
[00:03:22] Sarah Rose: So it’s usually the head scientist on a project.
[00:03:25] right. So it was that observation of of the differences that triggered. Further research and at university, maybe I’m jumping ahead a little bit. I know that you’re looking in specifically, at least from what I read in your bio, and you can correct me where I’m wrong that you’re looking at them from a perspective of how they relate from a restoration ecology standpoint.
[00:03:46] Michael Hawk: Can you tell me more about.
[00:03:47] Sarah Rose: My, PhD is actually in Restoration Ecology and I ended up working with someone that was looking at fuel loadings in the Jack Pine stands in Michigan. And so we decided to put the spider component on that. How did the spider communities change with the succession of the forest in natural succession as a way to, if we’re going in and manipulating to, to create the forest we want, are we doing it successfully?
[00:04:15] And then you can use the spider communities to work as an indicator for that because one of the problems that we have with Restoration Ecology is, We use plants as a lot of the metrics. So we go into an area, let’s say it’s been devastated by some human alteration and we want to restore habitat.
[00:04:32] We plant the plants that are supposed to be there, and then too often we use are the plants there as the metric as to whether we’ve succeeded. Well, if we’ve put the plants there, the plants are there. We need to be looking at other metrics to be sure that we’re making a complete ecosystem because just having the plants isn’t restoring the ecosystem.
[00:04:52] So the idea was if we use naturally regenerating jack pine stands, we could look at the spider communities and then we could use that to go into these artificially regenerated Jack Pine stands to see if we’re getting those same communi.
[00:05:06] Michael Hawk: That’s fascinating and I know in some past episodes of this podcast. With other guests talked about Kirkland’s warbler, which is dependent on Jack pine forest. So I’m wondering, just, I’m going out on a limb here, but in your research of the spider communities, does , Kirkland’s warbler come up in any connective way?
[00:05:24] Sarah Rose: So actually some of my sites had kurtland warblers nesting in them, so I had very restrictive access to some of my sites. But that’s actually why they’re looking at the fire loading the fuel loadings and the fire history up there. Because what we’ve done is we know that kurtland warblers like the five to 20 year old stance of jack pine.
[00:05:44] So once something gets to be 20 years old, we chop it down. We go and plow through it and we plant three to five year old Jack Pines in it to, to speed up that process of getting curtland warbler habitat, which means we’re now excluding things that use the one to four year jack pine stands and anything that lives in the 20 plus.
[00:06:04] And so that was one of the things that we were taking into consideration is when we’re doing this, when we’re manipulating the system for one specifically endangered animal, which we need to do to get their numbers back, are we potentially putting other things in per.
[00:06:20] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s a, something I hadn’t really thought about honestly. So in, in this case, when the Jack Pine forests are getting too old and this this effort, comes in and they’re cut down and plowed over and restarted, is that meant to replace wildfire or some other natural disturbance?
[00:06:37] Sarah Rose: So yeah it’s a fire dependent system, so they’re going in and mimicking wildfire by taking out the older trees. The other interesting thing, if you ever go onto Google Maps and you look into like the graying Michigan area is the areas that they’ve planted with Jack Pine. They do this open weave where they do like an undulating line of jack pine and then another undulating line of jack pine.
[00:07:00] So you get this very uniform pattern in these. That’s not how natural forests regenerate. When it naturally regenerates. You get these really spotty and you do get these lines of mature trees that just don’t burn when there’s a fire. So when we go in and we clear cut, we’re very much not mimicking the natural process.
[00:07:20] Michael Hawk: And from your research, how did that translate to the spider diversity and abundance in that area?
[00:07:26] Sarah Rose: So for my PhD, we did the first part, which was going in and sampling the communities in these naturally regenerating jack pine stands. Hopefully in the near future I’ll get a position with a university and then I’ll be able to do the added part, which is then going in and sampling the managed sites to see how they compare to the naturally regenerating sites.
[00:07:48] Michael Hawk: And do you feel that from your knowledge of spiders are they a better indicator species, so to speak, than maybe some other species when you’re looking to extrapolate the health of those systems?
[00:07:59] Sarah Rose: So the reason I think that spiders are a great indicator species is because they’re everywhere. You can’t go into a terrestrial system that doesn’t have spiders. They’re diverse there. There’s always gonna be a couple of hundred at least species in an area. So you’re gonna always be able to detect those changes in that slight habitat preference difference in the different spiders, what they’re utilizing, whether they need vertical structure for building their webs on whether they’re more ground dwelling to need that leaf litter.
[00:08:28] So because of all these different life strategies that they have, I think they’re a great indicator. The disadvantages, they can be time consuming to identify and going out and collecting and then identifying all the spiders does take time. But I personally think that they’re a great choice.
[00:08:45] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s super fascinating. I think when we get into some of the life history topics of spiders here in a few moments, that will start to become clear for listeners too as to how specialized they are and how they do fit in so many places. And actually maybe even before we get there, I know that there are lots of people, my own kids included, who are just, they have a kind of a visceral negative reaction when they see a spider.
[00:09:07] And and I’m wondering like, What is your most persuasive argument for people to help them see spiders like you see them?
[00:09:16] Sarah Rose: Well, first of all, I. Looking at them, actually taking the time to look at some of the really close up pictures. Start with the jumping spiders. That’s really gonna be the gateway spider. , a lot of them have a really cute face with some big eyes that, that sort of appeals to humans.
[00:09:31] So take a good look. Normally all people see is that thing scurrying across the floor, but when you start looking at some of these macro photos where you can see the faces and the beauty and the colors. But the thing I like to point out to people is there was a paper that came out either last year or the year before where they calculated that spiders on the entire planet consume prey That would equal in mass the entire human population in a. So if you think about all the little insects that it would take to be the equivalent of the human population, they’re eating a lot of things and a lot of those things that they’re eating are things that we probably don’t want around. So things that are gonna be the biting insects that are coming to feed on us, the things that are feeding on our crops, the things that are feeding on our homes and our resources.
[00:10:25] So just from that standpoint, if you start to appreciate the fact that they’re out there doing a great service for us and have no interest in messing with us. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is start looking at those pictures. There’s some great videos that have recently been made that are a little animated videos that, that depict spiders that make them really cute, but it’s a great way to get into that.
[00:10:52] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I’ve shown my kids Lucas the Spider, which is this kind of cute animated Yeah. And they have a social media presence as well. It’s something that you can follow, know, like on YouTube I’ll link to that actually. And yeah, I, when I find a jumping spider I was so happy actually.
[00:11:06] I took my kids camping and a jumping spider jumped on my leg and it was checking me out is what it, how I interpreted it. Anyway, it was crawling around and, of looking, it looked like it was looking at me and my kids thought it was really fascinating. And so now every time we see a jumping spider, I remind them of that instance.
[00:11:23] And I hope that it resonates. Like, yeah, no reason to be fearful,
[00:11:27] Sarah Rose: So the jumping spiders are one of the few spiders with really good eyesight. So when they look like they’re looking at you, they’re looking at.
[00:11:34] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s cool. And I also remind them when we find spiders in the house, that they’re there for a reason. Like they must have found some other insects to eat. So it’s it’s a good thing. And you know what’s gonna happen if we get rid of the spider? What insects are gonna start to appear that maybe you like less so
[00:11:50] Sarah Rose: Yeah,
[00:11:50] Michael Hawk: spider but that hasn’t worked real well because then they turn that into it’s more of a fear based kinda kind of argument anyway.
[00:11:58] Yeah. It’s always a challenge with kids. You started to talk a little bit about how the spiders, consume a lot of things that we would consider pests. And that might be a good segue to talk about some of the diversity in the world of spiders. I feel like this is saying tell me about world history in an hour.
[00:12:17] You know, There’s so much you could talk about. Maybe we can start, I don’t know where the best place to start is, but, talking a little bit about the diversity that we see here in North America. Maybe from hunting styles or prey choices, or, I don’t know what, whatever you think is best as an entry
[00:12:31] Sarah Rose: So I actually think that’s a great way to go into what the guilds are. So the guild assignment that’s from a paper cardoso at all that I used for my PhD research to put things into different blocks to make it easier to analyze data was the first goal from that. But it’s this really nice way of saying spiders can be split just based on how they hump for their prey and how they hump for their prey is gonna tell you a little bit about what prey they’re hunting.
[00:13:00] So for the guilds, there’s four guilds that have web building. For prey capture and for guilds that there is no web for prey capture. So right there you can see there’s gonna be a difference in what they’re catching. So if you’ve got your big orb weavers with their big round web that’s suspended in the air, most likely they’re targeting flying insects for their prey.
[00:13:21] And that’s why the web is deployed in that way. Whereas your ground active hunters are running along the ground chasing their prey. So they’re probably not going after flying prey as much because they want something that they can chase down on the.
[00:13:33] Michael Hawk: That makes sense. And it actually reminds me, almost missed this, but I’m glad that you mentioned the orb weave. I had a question from a listener. So I asked my listeners if they have any questions for future guests, and I give them a topical content and they said, Why are or weavers so prominent and so large in the autumn?
[00:13:53] Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on there? Is that spider a spider ling that was hatched in the springtime?
[00:13:59] Sarah Rose: right? So some of the orb weavers, not all of them, but some of them actually emerge in the spring as really small spiders. So actually there’s a lot more spiders. Of that particular kind in the spring because when the egg sacs emerge, there’s gonna be hundreds of baby spiders coming out of that egg sac.
[00:14:17] And then they’re spending the spring and the summer building different size webs at different locations, catching all of those flying insects and growing bigger and bigger. And by the time we get to late summer and fall, that’s when they’re mature adults and that’s when we’re seeing these big webs with the quite large spider sitting in the middle because they’re at their adult stage.
[00:14:37] They then will mate produce an egg sac and then the adults will die for the winter and the young will over winter and the egg sac and emerge in the spring and the cycle starts again. Now I say that for some of them. With spiders, there’s over 50,000 known species of spiders in the world. So there’s not gonna be one life history.
[00:14:57] You can’t just say this is what a spider does and this is its life history because there it’s just so diverse. And even with in the OR weavers, there are some or weavers that over winter as subadult mature in the spring mate and then it’s a completely different timeline or phenology for them.
[00:15:16] So it’s difficult to put things all together in one. But for orb weavers, there does seem to be a good number of them that have that emerge in the spring, grow through the spring and the summer, mature in the late summer fall, may produce your egg sack and then die. And that actually makes sense when we think about the fact that during the winter there’s not usually a whole lot of flying insect prey around for them to be catching.
[00:15:42] Michael Hawk: Yeah, and then that, that could lead to a hypothesis that in areas that do have mild winters, that maybe you find more of those multi-year life cycles or something. I don’t know.
[00:15:53] Sarah Rose: There are some here in like Ohio where we do get really cold winters that the orb weavers that over winter as adults or sub-adult stages. And what they do is they just go into a torper for the winter. So when they get cold enough, they’re basically, their metabolism slows down to the point that they’re basically in a coma like hibernating for the winter.
[00:16:10] So even with the cold winters, there are cases, but yeah, there are, like if you were in Florida, there’s probably more orb weavers that are gonna be active during the winter because there’s more.
[00:16:21] Michael Hawk: That’s really cool. And I, want to ask about those ones that you have in Ohio that go into Toper. Are they finding a place where they stay above freezing or can they actually freeze?
[00:16:30] Sarah Rose: Spiders actually contain an antifreeze substance within their bodies. So you can. You could, if you got them really cold, you could freeze ’em. But at normal temperatures you can’t freeze them. So the funny thing is, when I took an entomology class and we went out and we did a whole bunch of sweep netting in a meadow and the answer was to just take the tie off the sweep net and put it in their freezer overnight.
[00:16:52] Cuz the entomologist thing was you come back the next day, you dump it out on the table and you can collect all the insects that you want from it, because having been put in the freezer of, they’re dead. The catch is the spiders will wake up when they get warm again and start crawling around on the table, which even a lot of entomologists are aach phobic.
[00:17:09] So that was a lot of fun in the classroom to suddenly have all these spiders bringing back to life after being in the freezer overnight and crawling around on the table.
[00:17:18] Michael Hawk: That’s interesting. And I, the other thought that came to mind is if some of those spiders were maybe predatory on the other insects that were in there, those those insects that you just caught maybe become a meal for the spider.
[00:17:28] Sarah Rose: Yeah,
[00:17:29] Michael Hawk: Let me get back on track to what I had asked about before taking you on this tangent. And you were talking about the guild structures which was new to me, by the way.
[00:17:39] I hadn’t seen that until I purchased your book, so I totally missed this. And it makes a lot of sense. So maybe from there you talked about some guilds use web, some guilds don’t use webs. Maybe we can look at some of the the web building spiders and the diversity that exists in those sets.
[00:17:56] Sarah Rose: Yeah, there’s four of the guilds that use webs for prey capture. We have our sensing web guild, and although their webs don’t actually catch the prey I think of it more of a prey detection system. Those are things like our trap door spiders that would haves. Silk lines that radiate out from their borough.
[00:18:14] They’ll sit at the entrance of the borough and they can sense the movement of insects when they walk across their trip lines. So they detect the prey with their web. Instead of the web actually being used for prey capture, there are sheet web weavers whose web is basically a two-dimensional sheet.
[00:18:31] Sometimes it could be pulled into a bowl shaped or curved into a dome shape. But there it’s basically a sheet. Some of them also would have a funnel retreat at one end of it. That’s non sticky silk. So pray that gets caught in that web is just basically getting snagged. If you look at detailed photos of a lot of insects, they have lots of little spines and claws and hairs and things on their legs.
[00:18:55] So when they land on a web, it doesn’t take much for those things to get tangled in there and they have to try and pull free. So for example, grass fighters in the genus, a synopsis are a great example of this. They’re lightning fast. When something hits their web, they run out of their little funnel retreat to grab the prey item because the prey item could potentially break free cuz it’s not stuck to the web. We have our orb weavers which is what most people think of as a spider web. The round with a sticky spiral. Although sometimes it can be modified. There’s some that make just like one pie segment. Out of the orb web. And that oftentimes is using sticky silk. Not always, but there’s some sort of glue on the silk.
[00:19:38] So when the insect hits the web, they’re stuck to the web. So then for the last of the web building, we have the space web, we weavers they build a web that oftentimes looks like chaos. There doesn’t seem to be any set structure. It just fills a three dimensional space and it goes all over the place.
[00:19:56] Some people call them tangle webs or cobwebs. The things that you get in your corner of your house where there’s just this massive silk going in all different directions. And they have some great hunting techniques that are very specific to, to that group. And then we have our four guilds that don’t.
[00:20:13] A web for prey capture, and that was just basically splitting them by where they hunt. So the ground active hunters, the other active hunters, the ambush hunters. And then the last one is our spider hunters, which are specifically targeting other spiders. So our ground active are gonna be mainly on the ground, other active maybe up on buildings or on plants.
[00:20:34] Our ambush hunters are really the sit and wait. I love the crab spiders that, that they sit there with those front two pair of legs just extended waiting to give free hugs to any insect that happens to come close
[00:20:46] Michael Hawk: free Hugs,
[00:20:46] Sarah Rose: So it just really does come down to where they’re hunting and how they’re hunting.
[00:20:51] So if you think about, you look at different habitats there, there’s different options available. So you, in order to put a big orb web up, you need structure to attach the web two. So if you have a mode front lawn with two inches of grass and that’s all you have, you’re not gonna have any of the orb weavers, cuz there’s nothing for them to attach their web to until they get to your house.
[00:21:15] And then your front porch is gonna be a perfect location because there’s actually something to attach to. But with that, you have a lot of ground surface. So you can have your ground active hunters that are gonna be out there running around on the ground, chasing down all of your ground dwelling.
[00:21:29] Michael Hawk: Right. And that reminds me of a couple of questions that I personally have. So the orb weaver, spiders, so many of them seem to rebuild their webs almost every day. Maybe it is every day. And since that’s a sticky web, is that, is it just to make sure it’s fresh and optimal stickiness or is there any other theories behind that?
[00:21:48] Sarah Rose: I think that, there’s quite a few different things that play into that. So there are some species that literally will take down the web every morning. They consume the silk when they take down the web so that they’re getting that protein back to be able to produce new silk in the evening. And then at night they put another web up.
[00:22:04] And one of the big things I’ve heard is especially for those spiders that are only active at night, so they only want the web out during the night, is it means they’re less obvious to predators where they are because there’s no web indicating spider lives here. And also, Oftentimes during the day, the web would get damaged by other things.
[00:22:24] So if you’ve gone ahead and taken it down, recycled those proteins so that you haven’t lost anything, you can then rebuild fresh when the next night rolls around.
[00:22:33] Michael Hawk: Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
[00:22:34] Sarah Rose: There are also some or weavers that will keep a web up until it’s reached that point of disrepair where you can’t just patch it, that the best option is to take it completely down and rebuild.
[00:22:45] So it, it does vary, but the ones that do it every day I’ve heard a couple of different hypotheses and unfortunately we haven’t figured out a way to ask the spider why it does that yet.
[00:22:54] Michael Hawk: Well, let me know when you do figure that out in the future. I think that would make a good episode. And it reminded me of this, unfortunately I haven’t seen one now probably in over a year, but I, for a couple of years I had these tiny little, I think they’re orb weavers that the trash line orb weaver in my backyard.
[00:23:10] And I think that they would leave their webs up for extended periods of time. Can you tell the audience a little bit about the trash line or Weaver and , what they do with their webs?
[00:23:18] Sarah Rose: Yeah, so they’re really cool little spiders. In the middle, usually a vertical line down the middle of the web, they will put the remains of their prey and they’ll ball it up and it’ll make this line the trash line down the middle of the web, which acts as great camouflage for the spider.
[00:23:34] So oftentimes you’ll see the trash line in the middle of the web, and you’ll be looking at it, and you won’t see the spider unless you actually poke the spider and get it to move. So it’s great camouflage for the spider. Some of the species actually also hide their egg sacs within those . The line of debris.
[00:23:51] And when they rebuild the web, they leave the trash line intact, so they’ll take down the rest of the web and spin the rest of the web new, leaving the trash line. So it’ll start as a really thin line, a little bit of debris in the spring. And then as the year goes on and they’ve accumulated more and more prey items, you’ll get a really bigger, longer, thicker trash line
[00:24:13] Michael Hawk: Yeah, it’s pretty cool in the adult spider, in the middle of the web. As you pointed out, I didn’t even recognize it was there. I just was taking pictures and when I was looking at my photos, I was like, Oh, wait a minute. That is the spider right there. And it had its legs all tucked in.
[00:24:25] It made it really hard to identify. And then, sorry, I’m making this about my yard we have a lot of I think it’s the Western Black Widow it’s one of the black widows. Anyway, they make one of those really three dimensional tangly webs, like you were talking about. And they often get really full of debris as well, like leaf litter and random things.
[00:24:46] And it seems like they don’t care. They just let that stuff sit in the web. Does that relate to their hunting style or any other aspect of their life?
[00:24:55] Sarah Rose: So the, I love the black widows. I think they’re beautiful spiders. And one thing I would point out to your listeners is black widow silk is really strong silk equivalent to almost feeling like you’re trying to snap fishing line. I know someone that had a black widow that put its web behind their sofa and when they pulled the sofa out from the wall, they said it sounded like they were popping bubble wrap because it was snapping the lines that it’s so strong.
[00:25:20] So if you think you’re looking at a black widow web, one of the ways to tell is if it’s really strong silk. And yeah, they built this big, messy tangle. It’s just, and I almost do think it’s just random that they just put all these different silk lines, cuz I actually have had captive black widows and watched them have to cut their silk lines to get to the prey.
[00:25:37] So I think they just put up random silk lines and because of that, that it does catch a lot of debris. I’ve seen them sometimes go in and start taking some of the debris out, cutting it out and dropping it out of the web. But I don’t think it really impacts their ability to capture prey seen as most of the time they do leave it.
[00:25:55] And a lot of times what they’re going for is they. A lot of the cobweb weavers, so the family, the day, which black widows belong to create what are called gum foot lines. So they’ll have this big tangle web, and then from the bottom of the web to the ground, they’ll have these straight lines that are stretched down and glued to the ground.
[00:26:16] They’re sticky at the bottom, and the glue that’s holding it to the ground isn’t particularly strong. So anything that walks into those at the bottom, The silk will stick to what’s walked through it and then break from the ground and it’ll actually like hoist the prey item up into the web. And so one of the things that a lot of the, of the, the DIDs do is they let that prey of sit there and struggle and struggle and struggle and get tired out before they go in for the bite.
[00:26:40] So I’ve heard people comment that they think a black widow bite can happen is if you stick your finger in the web accidentally and it thinks your prey’s gonna run over and bite you. If you ever watch one taking down its prey, the bite doesn’t happen until they’re pretty sure that that prey item is secure and it’s no longer a threat to them.
[00:26:58] So biting is not the first thing they do, but yeah, that just tangle and just things getting caught in there. And I wonder sometimes if having the debris there makes things think that’s no longer a threat.
[00:27:10] Michael Hawk: It’s like a camouflage.
[00:27:12] Sarah Rose: Yeah.
[00:27:13] Michael Hawk: Interesting. So I like my black widows. We have a lot of them around the house. And not inside. I don’t, I try not to have them inside, but but outside. And my observation is, as you described, they’re generally very reclusive and, they’re out at night, not during the day. They’re usually hiding.
[00:27:30] But if someone were to encounter one, do they ever bite in defense or is it strictly to subdue a prey item?
[00:27:38] Sarah Rose: So the only time they’ll bite a human is in defense. And there’s actually a great paper. David Nelson and his group did a study where they took black widows into captivity and they made fake fingers and manipulated the spiders using these fake fingers to see what does it take for a black widow to bite somebody.
[00:27:56] And like a lot of snakes, they can also dry bite. So if you’re just manipulating them and they’re really not happy, maybe they’ll just nip you, but there’s no venom involved. And they pretty much determine that you have to be squishing the spider in order for it to turn around and really bite you and use venom.
[00:28:13] And it should also be noted that only the mature females are considered medically significant. And this is just due to the quantity of venom that they’re able to inject. The spider lings, the little babies and the males are too small. The amount of venom they have. You may have some local eye symptoms, but it shouldn’t be of medical concern.
[00:28:29] One of the stories I know of someone that was bitten by a black widow was he had hip waiters that he kept in his shed in his backyard, decided he was gonna go fly fishing, drove to where he was gonna go, fly fishing, stuck his foot into his hip. Waiter said he instantly felt like his foot had been struck by lightning.
[00:28:47] And when he took his foot out of the hip waiter, out fella dead black widow, that had been wet up in the bottom of the hip waiter. Because he was squishing her, yes, she did turn around and bite, but it also should be noted, he said he had very few symptoms. He had a great day, fly fishing, didn’t need any sort of medical attention, so okay.
[00:29:06] Michael Hawk: Happy ending. Yeah, it seems like so often, especially with bees and sometimes other biting insects, it’s an accidental encounter that that leads to a bite or a st. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the ground dwelling spiders. I know that. There are so many, and I know even less about them because I, frankly, I find them harder to observe , so I don’t spend as much time looking at them, like, so like wolf spiders come to mind.
[00:29:30] Tell me a little bit about a wolf spider lifecycle and how they make a living.
[00:29:34] Sarah Rose: So wolf spiders, a lot of people like the wolf spiders because they’re good mothers. So the female, when she makes her exac, she attaches it to her spinner rats and she drags it round with her until it emerges. And when the young emerge out of the exac, they crawl up and they actually ride on the mother’s abdomen for a period of time before they disperse.
[00:29:54] So in that time, she is basically guarding them. There have been some anecdotal reports that maybe when she’s feeding that the young may come up and feed on any praise she’s caught, but she’s not providing direct food sources for them. For the most part. Then once they’ve gone through their first molt, they’ll disperse from her.
[00:30:11] People often say that spiders don’t fly, but in reality they, they have a technique where they can fly and it’s called ballooning. And wolf spider babies are great at doing this. So you climb up onto something, a fence post, a garbage can, a bridge railing, something that gives you a little bit of height.
[00:30:28] You stand on your tippy tip toes, and you stick your butt up in the air and you start letting out silk. And when the electromagnetic currents and the air currents catch the silk, right, it’ll actually pull the spider up into the air and the spider can fly for a distance. This is really important ecologically, because one of the things you don’t want to have is all of your offspring growing up in the same place as the parents, because you then end up with these very small populations that are all very genetically related.
[00:30:58] And that’s when you’re gonna start to, to have problems with the genetics. Urge to disperse away from where you’re born is pretty common throughout the animal kingdom and spiders accomplish this by ballooning unfortunately, they can’t control where they go. They don’t have any steering. They can’t plot, they don’t have a flight plan.
[00:31:16] So they just go wherever the wind takes them. If they land somewhere that, that seems like a good habitat they might stay there. If they land somewhere and they don’t like it, they’ll probably balloon again. There are definitely cases where they land on the surface of water and can’t have good access to land and become fish food.
[00:31:34] But yeah, in the origin of species, Charles Darwin actually wrote about one morning when the beagle was out at, in the middle of the ocean waking up and the mass just dripping with all of this silk and these baby spiders that had been taken out by some wind current off to the middle of the ocean.
[00:31:50] Now, if they hadn’t encountered a ship, most likely they would’ve died. So this is another way. You produce hundreds and hundreds of offspring in the hopes that a few survive. A lot of baby spiders don’t survive, but the hope is that you’re gonna find some land that is good hunting and you’re gonna be happy.
[00:32:08] This is actually another reason that makes spiders great bio indicators because when an area is destroyed so take for example, crack AOA erupting. The first thing that was found alive on crack AOA was a spider. So they’re one of the first things to come in and start reestablishing in these devastated.
[00:32:28] Michael Hawk: And in the case of Darwin, those spiders had the added benefit of not just their ballooning dispersal method, but then some anthropogenic help to then move them around a little bit more on the boat.
[00:32:41] Sarah Rose: Yeah. And spiders. Sure. Do you like to get moved by people? So then once the wolf spider is found, its new patch. Some of them do build a burrow, so they’ll dig out a burrow in the ground that they live in. And then they basically go out at night from that location and hunt. Some of them just make a little retreat in the leaf litter or in the grass or whatever habitat they happen to be in.
[00:33:02] And then, yeah, they’re mainly nocturnal hunters. They go out chasing down their prey. They really are sensitive to movement. So spiders in general have these really great sensory hairs all over their legs. So one of the things you can do is if you’re trying to attract spiders, if you have an old sonic toothbrush, is to take it and turn it on.
[00:33:22] And you can even just touch it onto like leaf litter or vegetation. And sometimes you’ll get those wolf spiders who think that there’s an insect in distress that they’re detecting and they’ll come running to see what it is. It also works great for the web spiders. You can touch the sonic toothbrush to the edge of the web and it mimics a prey being caught, and the spider will come out to investigate what prey they’ve got.
[00:33:43] Michael Hawk: I’m gonna have to try that. The next bio blitz, I I lead. We already have like such a weird array of esoteric tools to help people find and see. , Sonic toothbrush goes into that bag now. so ballooning as a dispersal strategy. So wolf spiders do it based on what you said. Are there other types of spiders that also.
[00:34:03] Sarah Rose: There are lots of spiders that balloon most of the orb weavers when their babies balloon. The s the shewe weavers they’re usually smaller spiders and they can balloon at any life stage. So it’s really cool In the UK and England where I’m from the legend was, if they call them money spider.
[00:34:20] So if a lineate or a money spider balloons and lands on you the story was that meant you were about to come into money. So I just love the fact that there is this one of the few positives between of having a spider end up on you that it’s a good sign you’re gonna come into money. But yeah, a lot of spiders do.
[00:34:37] There are a few that don’t. The brown recluse is a great example of one that doesn’t balloon. They’re from, Caved dwelling species is their origins. And of course, ballooning and caves wouldn’t get you very far. So I think that’s the thought as to why they don’t balloon. But most spiders there is a size limit.
[00:34:56] So you’re not gonna have your big tarantulas able to balloon across the desert, which I think would be fascinating to see. But I understand how many people, if there was suddenly hundreds of ballooning tarantulas, might not find that appealing. Some of the, my galls, the tarantulas trap door, spiders purse, web weavers can balloon when they’re very young, but there is a size limit.
[00:35:18] I don’t remember exactly what it is, but that once you get to a certain size, you just can’t put out enough silk to catch those currents and get lifted up into the air. So it’s usually only the smaller spiders. But I’ve personally seen crab spiders the orb weavers the wolf spiders. Just a good assortment, jumping spiders.
[00:35:39] Michael Hawk: So that’s telling me that I need to constantly look in my yard because I, you never know who’s just gonna happen to balloon in. So the species I have this year may be different than the ones I have next year.
[00:35:50] Sarah Rose: Absolutely.
[00:35:51] Michael Hawk: That’s pretty cool. And so something else that, I’m on a ton of different email lists and social media groups here locally in the San Francisco Bay area. And I noticed as we’re recording this here in late October, and it was maybe a week or two ago, across a bunch of different groups and lists, a lot of people reported ballooning, like at different parks, different areas, all across the Bay Area on the same day.
[00:36:14] is there an explanation for that?
[00:36:16] Sarah Rose: We refer to those as mass ballooning events. So it’s when the environmental conditions are just perfect, when you’ve got the right electromagnetic currents usually pretty calm, but enough of a breeze. Dry air tends to be favorable for ballooning. They don’t, you don’t see them ballooning when it’s raining at all.
[00:36:35] So you get the perfect weather, the perfect conditions, and all of these baby spiders go. Now is the time, and they go out in balloon, and sometimes you’ll get areas that’ll just be covered in all of the Gomer silk. So when they go to balloon, you start letting out silk and silk and silk and silk and silk, and sometimes that silk will get stuck on vegetation or something.
[00:36:56] Basically cut that thread and start again. Oftentimes I’ll have to do this multiple, multiple times in order to take flight. So there will be all of this excess silk. So when we have a mass ballooning event, you can have just the landscape suddenly just get covered in all of this silk. And it’s impressive to look at.
[00:37:13] And actually in my book, I have a picture that I took on December 24th where we had a mass ballooning event. We had a particularly warm day. The weather conditions were perfect and all of these spiders went out and were ballooning. And I happened to, to track down several of ’em, so I know it was Leia and wolf spiders and some crab spiders.
[00:37:33] But the media took that to mean that it was all the baby or believers that were ballooning that had emerged early because of global climate change and weren’t gonna survive the winter. And there were all of these stories and I’m going, Nope, this. All the time. So you’ll get the days where, and it’s funny because I’m actually in a couple of spider groups and we had this a few days ago.
[00:37:52] People were like, If you’re in Ohio, today’s the day everybody’s ballooning go out. And people were saying, you stick a pole in the middle of your lawn and then just sit and watch it. And it’s amazing how many spiders will come running up at to go ballooning.
[00:38:06] Michael Hawk: Wow. I never would’ve thought about that. And the next thought I had is there’s all this great research that’s been done about bird migration to the point where you can use weather forecast to predict large migratory events. It’d be super cool to have a an equivalent for spiders. Like, okay, in two days the weather’s gonna be great.
[00:38:24] Go out there, be prepared. I’d be all over that anyway, if such a thing existed,
[00:38:28] Sarah Rose: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve got anything like that. Maybe we need to start putting together what exactly those environmental parameters are so that we can predict.
[00:38:36] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that would be a lot of fun. wolf spiders are a good example of a ground dwelling one you mentioned molting and I’m curious about what, again, I know what I was gonna say earlier is I heard a great quote from a Cornell University entomologist. Before he was about to give a presentation, he said, Everything I say today is gonna be slightly wrong, , because, it’s just that complicated.
[00:38:57] There’s always exceptions to everything in biology. So I recognize that it’s hard to answer some of these questions, but when it comes to molting and instars, what might a typical spider’s lifecycle look?
[00:39:11] Sarah Rose: The thing with spiders is they look like spiders from the moment that they emerge from the ex. Unlike some of the insects that go through true metamorphosis that look very different. A spider looks like a spider. It may not look exactly like the adult form, but it does look like a spider. And yes, they have to go through these stages where they shed their exoskeleton.
[00:39:31] And one really cool thing that, that I learned just a few years ago, well, okay, it was probably more than a few years ago, cuz time has really gotten away from me. But it wasn’t until I was really getting into researching spiders that I learned that not only did they shed the external skeleton, but there’s internal structures that they shed during that process too.
[00:39:51] So like the lining of their stomach and esophagus also gets shed, and I can’t wrap my head around how they do this, how they. Have the lining of the stomach and the esophagus come out at the same time as they’re shedding their exoskeleton, but they do it and I’ve got pictures to prove it. And so that’s how they grow.
[00:40:10] So the exoskeleton on spiders isn’t as hard as it is for some of the other arthropods, but their exoskeleton is very restrictive. In order for them to grow, they have to shed that, and then they can stretch out the new exoskeleton to be a bit bigger. Different spiders go through different numbers of malts to reach adulthood with the true spiders.
[00:40:30] So spiders can be broadly split into the meor and the uranium morph. The meor are things like our tarantulas and trap door spiders, and then pretty much everything else is our true spiders or the uranium morph. Most of the uranium morph do not malt again once they reach adulthood. Whereas if we think about things like our tarantulas, they can continue to malt even once they’re adults.
[00:40:55] And that’s. Speculated as to one of the reasons that tarantulas can be so long lived is because even once they’re adults, they can continue to shut that excess skeleton and keep growing. Whereas our true spiders, once they’re mature they stop. And if you look at the structures, the males use their petals for sperm transfer.
[00:41:12] And so they have these really complex structures on their petals and it would be really hard to be able to shed that again, once you’ve developed all those structures. Yeah. So they go through the various instars as I said, for different spiders, there’s a different number. I kept dola meats, Albans, the white bandage fishing spider in captivity.
[00:41:32] I raised 75 Offspring and I believe it was 12 or 13. Stages to till they got to adulthood. This is once they’re out of the exac they will usually go through their first malt within the exac. And as they grow, their colors can change, the physical structures can change, they can change quite dramatically in their appearance between each of those stages.
[00:41:54] And then of course the climax is that final malt where they become sexually mature.
[00:41:59] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I’m thinking about, as you described this the black widows we were talking about before and how dramatically they change in appearance from when they’re a Spider Ling, how tiny they are, and they look like a. More of a whiteish marble when they’re little, and then they turn into these beautiful, shiny black marbles, I guess again,
[00:42:16] Sarah Rose: Yeah.
[00:42:16] Michael Hawk: an adult. I’m gonna ask you a question that I hate when people ask me, so I apologize in advance because I always have trouble with this, but do you have any favorite species that you just love to tell people about? Maybe you’ve already covered a couple of them here.
[00:42:32] Sarah Rose: So my favorite species is, I hate to pick one, but if I had to, my favorite is Platycryptus undatus. It doesn’t officially have a common name. Some people call it the tan jumper. And the thing I love about these guys they really are animated and have these wonderfully adorable faces. So the female has a white band underneath the eyes and above the chiller and the males, it’s this bright orange.
[00:42:56] And I think they just look like Muppets. The males have a really wide face and the characters the individual personalities that you can detect with this species they’re really common on houses and fence posts here in Ohio where I am. So lots of chances to interact with them.
[00:43:12] I have interacted personally with them on so many occasions. So I keep captive spiders for research quite often. So I’m constantly breeding fruit flies for food for my smaller spiders. And as it turns out, I end up with a lot of excess fruit flies at times. And so I’ll go out and I’ll feed the spiders on my front porch, some fruit flies.
[00:43:33] And a couple of years ago I actually had a male Platycryptus undatus that would see me come out and. Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing here, but it really seemed like he recognized when I came out and did a certain set of things, it meant that I had food to give and he would come down and interact with me.
[00:43:50] And I’ve actually got this great video where I’m sitting on my front porch and he’s sitting on my finger eating a fruit fly. And it’s just the, this chance to connect with a species. So if I had to pick a favorite, that would be my favorite. But with that said, , there are so many really cool species. It is so hard to say for sure.
[00:44:11] I’ve had birder friends that when you ask them what their favorite bird is, they’re like, whichever one I’m looking at right now.
[00:44:16] So I definitely can get pulled into just about any spice spider. There are some really unique life strategies. There’s some really unique appearances. Not all spiders have the traditional eight eyes and the normal looking face.
[00:44:31] There’s some really. Unusual looking spiders that have lobes and pits on their heads or their eyes up on a stalk on the middle of their heads. So just some really fascinating things.
[00:44:43] Michael Hawk: Yeah, and when people ask me that question, I’m usually like it varies from day to day. Talking about some of those really unique spiders. There’s a couple that I’m personally interested in and they might serve as an example of, perhaps a less typical spider, but I don’t know.
[00:44:59] But I would love to hear a little bit about bolas spiders
[00:45:03] Sarah Rose: so I love bolas spiders. They would be top on my list if I had a top, Well, I think if I had a top 10 list, it would probably morph into a top hundred list. But boless spiders are definitely on there. So they are members of the family ana day, which is the orb weavers, but they don’t build our traditional web.
[00:45:21] So what they do instead is they build a framework that they suspend themselves from and then they make a really long line of still silk and cover it in sticky glue so that it makes a bowl. We don’t know quite how, but they mimic moth pheromones. So the female bowl of spider will then sit there emitting mo pheromones that match the moths that are in a particular area.
[00:45:44] So first of all, she had to. The moth pheros that are there, and then she replicates them somehow. And then so when that male moth starts flying near her, she’ll be suspended from her web, and she’ll swing that sticky ball around until it gets stuck onto the moth so that she can capture it and consume it.
[00:46:05] The males and the immatures they mimic one of the flies. I don’t remember which one it is, but so there’s other mimicry going on there, so somehow they’re able to get those chemical cues as to what’s around, mimic those chemicals and attract track their food, which is amazing. Just it blows the mind how they can do that.
[00:46:25] Probably more common than we know. They are because they are such good mimics of sitting there and looking like bird poop on a leaf. So people oftentimes overlook them that it’s amazing once you know to look for them. It’s amazing how often you can find them. But yeah, they are an amazing creature.
[00:46:44] And then one of the other interesting thing with them is some of them, the males actually emerge from the exac as mature.
[00:46:50] Michael Hawk: Oh wow.
[00:46:51] Sarah Rose: So the males are tiny in comparison to the females will emerge from the exac as a mature male. And that’s his one role in life is to go find that big female and mate with her.
[00:47:00] Michael Hawk: Well that’s, yeah. I know that we do have bo spiders around here because I had a friend of mine actually find one, one time I’ve yet to find one personally and so many interesting things that you just said. I didn’t realize that they figure out how to mimic the local moth pheromones. Is this the same species will produce different pheromones then in different habitats or different location?
[00:47:20] Sarah Rose: Right, So they’re able to shift the pheromones that they’re producing based on what’s currently around them
[00:47:26] Michael Hawk: And this might be a little too esoteric, but I know species concept is fuzzy, but do we know from DNA or from other analysis, that they’re really the same species and not like a subspecies or somebody splitting based on the local habitat?
[00:47:39] Sarah Rose: as far as, there are several different species of Bo Spider Earth which. Most of the ways that we identify spiders is by morphological characteristics, usually the genitalia. So in spiders, the genitalia is like a lock and key mechanism. Only the males of the same species are gonna be able to interact with the female genitalia appropriately.
[00:48:01] We are doing more and more genetic analyses that are showing that in some cases where we think it’s just one species, maybe it’s two or three and that to our eyes, they look exactly the same. But when you do the genetics, we come up with that they are very different. But as far as the mimicking is it different species that are mimicking different moths?
[00:48:24] I believe, and I would have to check the literature on this, but I believe that they’ve actually had bo spiders in captivity and noted them changing the pheromone that they’re producing.
[00:48:34] Michael Hawk: Wow, that’s fantastic , that they can do that. And yeah, as you said, it opens up so many questions. How do they detect, how do they create that phon? It’s just phenomenal. Why don’t we let me ask you, cause I, I mentioned the ant mimicking spiders. I don’t know if that’s worth talking about or not.
[00:48:51] Sarah Rose: Amp mimicking spiders are a great topic. So amp mimicking in spiders is actually quite common. I use the word common hesitantly, but there are many different spiders that will do a form of amp mimicry. Some of the more well known are some of the jumping spiders are exceptionally good at amp mimicry to the point they’ll walk with.
[00:49:13] Legs up in the air and they’ll have markings on their legs that make it look like they have antennae. Their body will be sculpted into a very ant like shape. They walk very much like ants. They are some of the best ant mimics out there. I’ve been at bio blitzes where we’ll be chasing a critter and debating whether we’re chasing an ant or a spider.
[00:49:32] And bets will be going on until we catch it and then can actually put good eyes on it to know. And half the time I’m right. Half the time I’m wrong. They’re that good. But there’s also the corins are oftentimes referred to as ant runner or ant likes spiders. They also move very much like an ant.
[00:49:49] They’ll have similar colorations. Sometimes they’ll have that similar body look. There’s some of the nease, the stealthy ground spiders that also will mimic. So there, there’s quite a few cases. in the spider diversity where ant mimicry has come to play. And of course that begs the question of why would you want to look like an ant?
[00:50:07] And the answer isn’t because then you can go catch the ants, although some of them do feed on the ants. The thought is that most of the time that’s done because predators don’t wanna mess with ants, cuz ants usually have quite a nasty sting and aren’t the most appealing taste wise. So it’s a defensive mechanism.
[00:50:25] Michael Hawk: From my like, armchair, amateur point of view. That makes sense. Just simply because like the, as the story goes, ants typically don’t rely on visual senses. Very much so. you got onto my radar because of this wonderful book that, I’ll hold it up here just to prove that I’m not making it up, but Spiders of North America it’s a field guide that you created published through Princeton University Press, which is amazing and I recommend it for everyone.
[00:50:51] I’ll make sure to link to to it as well. So how does the idea of creating something as fantastic and thorough and probably time consuming, is this come to be like when did you say, I’m gonna, I’m gonna do this and there’s a need for it.
[00:51:05] Sarah Rose: So actually Princeton University Press came to me and asked me if I would be willing to write the field guide. They had wanted to do a field guide. They’d actually contracted with someone to write the field guide and then that person decided that they just didn’t feel they were qualified
[00:51:21] and that person was actually the one that recommended me to Princeton University. Press one. Nope. This is the person that has the spider knowledge. And when Princeton University Press first came to me, I was still working on my PhD. There were two things I needed to take into consideration. One was I was still getting my PhD and the other was Rich Bradley was on my PhD committee and he has a book out common Spiders of North America.
[00:51:44] And I didn’t wanna step on his toes by agreeing to do the field guide. So I had to have a heart to heart with Rich Bradley and say, I’ve been asked to do. Are you gonna get upset with me if I do this? And he was the one that pushed me and said, No, this is great. We need a field guide. You need to do this.
[00:52:01] So I agreed to do it. I told Princeton University Press, nothing would happen until I had my PhD because writing a dissertation was enough. I didn’t need a book on the plate at the same time. And they were cool with that. And then just started trying to compile all the information and get all the photos I need.
[00:52:18] And Covid played a lot into, to making some delays and had this big plan of a trip going various places around the United States to catch spiders and photograph them. And Covid basically put the kibosh on. That one took longer than it was anticipated to, but I think we ended up with something that’s a pretty good book.
[00:52:39] Michael Hawk: Oh, it’s a great book and it was definitely missing from my bookshelf. The best spider book I have aside from yours is a California specific one from I think University of California Press. I might be getting the name wrong, but in any event, just to help listeners understand how immense of a undertaking this is, coverage is limited to the US and Canada in your book.
[00:53:02] So in that range how many spiders did you have to consider for inclusion?
[00:53:06] Sarah Rose: So I actually can probably get you an exact number on that.
[00:53:10] Michael Hawk: Well, I can tell you the back of the book says 4,000.
[00:53:13] Sarah Rose: Yeah, it’s more than 4,000. I thought I had the listing with the exact number. We’re up to, We keep finding more. So that’s one thing I wanna point out to people is. There’s still a lot we don’t know about spiders. Ranges is one of those things. All of my range maps are like a Mm, man, this looks pretty good.
[00:53:29] We’ll go with it cuz we don’t have the specific data. But there’s also a new species being found every day. You could, might be able to go out in your backyard and find a species not known to science. So far from my backyard, I’ve found five state records for Ohio. And that’s just poking around in my backyard.
[00:53:45] I haven’t done any true sampling out there in all of my sampling. I’ve got several spiders sitting on my desk that are potentially new species that I just need to really delve into the literature and make sure I haven’t missed something. But there’s still a lot we don’t know. So is it 4,000? Is it 6,000?
[00:54:03] Is it 8,000? Who knows. I don’t know if we will ever actually know the true number, but there are a lot of spiders. And of course the field guide can’t cover everybody. So that was the hard choice was who to include, who not to include. And I’ve already had those emails of why didn’t you include this species?
[00:54:21] It’s my favorite. It should have been in there . And I expected that you have to draw the line somewhere. So I think we’ve got 509 species in the book. They ended up telling me I had to cut out some, I had more species that I had written up and they told me I had already blown through the page number that they had in mind, like I doubled it. And so that they said, No, you need to cut this back. We’re gonna set you a limit. I think maybe in the future, maybe we’ll do a spiders of North America Volume two. To try and include some of those others.
[00:54:54] My other thought is it would be really nice to just do more regional ones to do like the Eastern United States or the Southern United States or just Canada or something like that. But yeah, there’s a lot of diversity and it was hard deciding who to choose. So, I wanted to have at least one representative from each family, which was great until after I had submitted everything from my book.
[00:55:16] And then a family got split to family, so now I have one family missing from my book. But yeah, so putting in every family so that at least to a family level, you should be able to use the book to try and get your ID down to at least that.
[00:55:30] And there were things in there that I really wanted to make sure that we had, There are some of the species that, that we have to have in there.
[00:55:36] Of course the medically significant spiders needed to be in there for the people that, just wanted that information of, okay, there’s all these spiders. Who do I need to avoid? Although you could be sitting right next to one and it’s not gonna be a bother to you. And then and I really wanted to do lots of photos.
[00:55:52] So one of my biggest pet peeves with a lot of the field guys is you only see one side of the animal. So you either have a dorsal or a eventual view Which is great if you’re out in the field and that’s your view, if your view matches what’s in the book. But if you’re looking at the opposite side of a spider, and if you think about our web dwelling spiders, like our big orb weavers, it’s great if you can see it from the top side.
[00:56:15] But if it’s built its web to the point that all you can see is the underside. I wanted to have a field guide that had some of those underside views as well as , what the spider lings look like. What do the egg sacks look like? And that’s one of the things that we don’t have a lot of knowledge on is the egg sacs for spiders.
[00:56:32] So if you think about it, a lot of the spiders are very secretive in where they put their acts cuz it needs to be somewhere where it can survive for a period of time for those young to emerge. And so we don’t know what a lot of the acts look like, so when I did have exac photos, I wanted to include those in the book as well.
[00:56:48] So it was just all these things that kept adding up and more and more. But Princeton University Press was really great to work with and they accommodated what I wanted to do and listened to my feedback and.
[00:56:58] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of their work. I actually, before this interview, I counted on my shelf to see how many Princeton University press books I have. And I think I’m, I, maybe I don’t have ’em all on my shelf right now, but I counted 20. I think that’s a little bit short actually. , I probably have more than that.
[00:57:14] I wanted to go back and say, I really like the array of photos that you have, because I’ve run into that exact problem you mentioned, especially with the orb weavers, where all I can see is the vental view and it makes it very difficult. And then the other thing is range maps.
[00:57:28] I think both the photos and the range maps make this book really accessible to people. I’ve had, for example, birder friends. And I don’t wanna make that sound disparaging at all, because I’m a birder, I’m on an Audubon board, but I. Try to get them interested in other aspects of nature.
[00:57:44] And I show them a guide and they’re like, Wait, where’s the maps? Like, where are the range maps? That’s what they expect to take that next step. So even if they’re not perfect, it’s a starting point and I’m a big fan of that in the book. It’s very helpful. Uh,
[00:57:56] Sarah Rose: Yeah, I was pretty adamant that I wanted to do range maps and at first Princeton University Press wasn’t sold on it. Especially when they were informed of the fact that most of the maps are gonna be a lot of guesswork, sort of going here are records from where I know this species has been seen.
[00:58:12] And I’m gonna assume that if I’ve got some at Northern and some Southern, that there’s probably some in the middle and just draw shape around it and say that’s our range map. But, For right now with spiders, that’s about the best we can do and I wanted people to have something where they could easily see this is way outside of where this species has been documented before or yeah, this is possible.
[00:58:34] Cuz that really does help cuz there’s so many spiders that look so similar so that if you can look at it and say, Well, I’m in California and it says this species isn’t found in California. Maybe I need to keep looking and see if there’s something else that is found in California.
[00:58:50] Michael Hawk: Yeah, it generates discussion. So perhaps that you did find that species in California for the first time. To your point earlier, there’s a lot still being discovered and now there’s actually a reference that people can look at and say, Oh, this is either a new record or I’m wrong and build from there.
[00:59:05] So it’s super cool. Did you have any other considerations for building a field guide like this?
[00:59:11] Sarah Rose: I think that just all I did was I sat down and went, If I was picking up a field guide for spiders, what would I want to have in it? And so I have the California book that, that you talked about. I have Rich Bradley’s book. I have there’s a couple other smaller, more regional field guides for spiders here in Ohio with the Ohio dnr.
[00:59:31] Put out a field guide to spiders of Ohio. And so I started looking at all those field guides and then I pulled all my other field guides. I’m convinced that people don’t have just one animal, that they like to go out and look at those of us that have field guides, have that collection of field guides.
[00:59:46] And I started looking through all my insect and my bird and my mammal and the tree field guides and all that. What did I like? What didn’t I like? What did I wanna have mine include? And so it was really this thought process of what would I want when I pick up a book, what do I want? Yeah. And yeah, range maps a glossary with some photos For me, when I did the Keys in the book was having photos that show each of the traits for the keys.
[01:00:15] Because one of the things that I hate when I’m my dean Spiders, and you’re going through a dichotomous key, is when there’s not a figure and it’ll say something like more curved or less curved, and it’s like more curved or less curved than what . So just all those things of taking into consideration of.
[01:00:34] What do people need to know? What are the basics? And then trying to go back to when I didn’t know how to identify spiders what did I need pointed out to me? What were the questions that I always was asking? What were the things that I was like, I’m confused. What does that look like? And making sure that I made those things clear.
[01:00:50] Michael Hawk: That’s very helpful as well. And I know so many times I’ve picked up a key for ataxia that’s new to me. And like every choice I have, there’s like one or two new terms in there that like, I’m not quite sure what that means and I have to go and look that up and. Yeah, when there’s not a picture, when there’s not something to help accelerate that ex experiential factor to know what some of these relative assessments really mean.
[01:01:14] Yeah. Super helpful. And I also like that you had a, an example dichotomous key for people maybe who have not experienced them before at the very beginning. Using, I think it was Candy that you
[01:01:25] Sarah Rose: Yeah.
[01:01:27] Michael Hawk: Very helpful.
[01:01:28] Sarah Rose: I actually did that with a class that, with the students, was having them write out a dichotomous key and giving them, you have to choose something simple. And so it was like, okay, candy. Cuz I think it was around Halloween and the professor had different candy leftover from Halloween. And so how would you make a dichotomous key?
[01:01:44] And so if you get really into spider identification, you’re gonna have to learn how to use a dichotomous key because when you get to the real literature on it, that’s basically what everything is these two statements. It’s either A or B. And then from there it tells you where to go and it starts narrowing things down.
[01:02:04] And yeah, I wanted to make sure that people knew what that was and how to use that in a simple way.
[01:02:10] Michael Hawk: So this book then can be a bridge to help people get to the next level of spider ID and spider research for that matter.
[01:02:18] Sarah Rose: Yeah. So that comes back to what my target audience is. And that was one thing that, that when Princeton contacted me and they said, We basically want your target audience to be anyone. And I’m like, Okay that’s broad. So anybody that has any interest in spider from somebody that knows nothing about biology and terminology should be able to pick up this book and learn enough from it to be able to do it.
[01:02:42] But I also wanted it to be in depth enough that Ologists can pick it up and go, Oh, I learned something, or I can figure this out. So trying to bridge that gap to have the information specific enough and broad enough to cover all of those base.
[01:02:57] Michael Hawk: And yeah it works. I think it works. Anyway, so I know that my listeners, oftentimes, if they’ve come to this episode and they’ve sat through and they’ve listened this far, they’re probably interested in learning more. Do you have any suggestions, books or media, movies, documentaries? You mentioned you actually had a video on YouTube, , about spiders that people might be interested in pursuing.
[01:03:18] Sarah Rose: So I do have some videos on YouTube so people can search for me there. As far as if you want to learn more the next step would be something like Spiders of North America, An Identification Manual which was put out by the American Ecological Society. That is not a field guide, that is a series of dichotomous keys that will get you to family and then to genus.
[01:03:40] And. Basically assuming that you have a specimen under the microscope. So it’s going to list a lot of characters that you can’t see outwardly with a spider just running around. There are lots of Facebook groups that are great for if you wanna learn more. They’re numerous there. There’s so many.
[01:03:55] But I will do a shout out for one, which is all bugs go to Kevin, which is a great group. It’s not just spiders. It’s gonna be all of the insects as well. But it’s a great group. There’s several experts of different taxis on there, so if you have any sort of bug question, that’s a great place to ask it.
[01:04:12] The American Ecological Society people hear that and they think that should just be an association for just those of us in the profession. And for the most part, that is what it is. It’s the students and the people that are professional ologists. We have an annual conference every year.
[01:04:28] There’s a journal that’s published. They also do a newsletter that’s sent out twice a year, but I would like to promote that’s not just for the professionals. The thing with being an ologist, there’s no set definition as to what an ologist is. For example, if someone says they’re an ornithologist, you assume that they’re actually like a professor with birds.
[01:04:48] In con contrast to if you say you’re a bird, if you just love and know a lot about spiders, you can call yourself an ologist and it’s not gonna. Offensive to anyone. But if you really wanna learn a lot more, one of the things you could do is join the American Arachnological Society and get the journal.
[01:05:06] You can see what research is going on out there with spiders and the other Iraqs, cuz there are quite a few other Iraqs. It’s a great organization and I actually should do a shout out to, to thank them as well because without that organization I wouldn’t be where I am today. It is a very inclusive organization.
[01:05:23] They made me feel very welcome. There’s always someone that’s willing to answer questions or help you if you have something going on. They’re willing to listen and give feedback and. It’s just a, an all around great group of people, so I would absolutely recommend it. If you’re really interested in spiders, maybe look at joining and get the journal and start reading some of the articles.
[01:05:45] They have a lister of email list that goes out where people pose questions or maybe someone that’s looking for specimens for research that you could help out with. Check out who your ologists locally are, what research is going on locally at, at different universities, that there’s a lot going on.
[01:06:01] Michael Hawk: . I’ll make sure to link to the linkable resources that you mentioned. And it’s great to know that yeah, a lot of these societies and groups, they just by name, you might assume that there’s a barrier of entry. So it’s great to know that that it’s a very inclusive group. And I really like to ask this question means I never know where it’s gonna go.
[01:06:19] But if you could magically impart just one ecological concept that you’ve learned about or witnessed to help the general public see the world that you see it, what might that.
[01:06:29] Sarah Rose: That’s a really tough one. I think that the main thing as far as an ecological concept is feedback loops. And I know that sounds like a kind of a strange one to choose, but this idea of having something that then triggers something to happen more, which feeds back into it to escalate it. And then the thing that brings that to mind is the current crisis we’re facing with global climate change.
[01:06:55] What a lot of people don’t understand is how those feedback loops are escalating it more rapidly. So if you think about it, scientists have been warning of global climate change for decades now, and here we are suddenly in, in 2022 and we’re looking at all of the hurricanes and all of the fires and all of the droughts and people, I’ve had so many people comment that it seems to all suddenly be happening at once.
[01:07:21] And it’s those feedback loops of, for example, in the Arctic where it’s normally snow covered and snow reflects a lot of the sunlight as the snow is melting because it’s warmer, the ground is darker, which it means it’s absorbing more heat, which is melting more of the snow, which is making it warmer, which, and it’s all of the, these feedback loops , that keep going, that cycle things faster and get us to the point where it makes it harder.
[01:07:49] To halt something like global climate change, that really is as a race, if we want to survive, we need to get under control.
[01:07:55] Michael Hawk: Thank you for bringing that one up. That’s a new one. And it is definitely pertinent, and there’s so many of these feedback loops too that the other one that came to my mind is methane release from soils and from the ocean as they warm up too. And yeah. If people want to follow you or get in touch where might they be able to go?
[01:08:14] Like, do you have a social media presence or any other outlet that people iNaturalist, maybe that they can find you?
[01:08:21] Sarah Rose: I am a iNaturalist, but I don’t go on there very often but I can be found on there. I am on Facebook. I really don’t have a big social media presence. I am the chair of the Common Names Committee for the American Arachnalogical Society. So I do wanna do a promo for anybody that’s looking at a spider that goes, I don’t want to be able to figure out how to pronounce that really complicated Latin scientific name.
[01:08:45] If you have a common name suggestion if you check out the American Arachnological Society, Website you’ll find a link to to get in touch with me to submit a common name request. And I really would like people to do that. As a committee, we don’t sit here and just go, we should give this one a common name.
[01:09:01] We wait for people to, to submit requests to us. And I’d like to see more common names because it really does help bridge between the scientific community and the lake community. If we can give it a name that’s appropriate and meaningful, but a lot easier to.
[01:09:17] Michael Hawk: Thank you for bringing that up, because that was on my list and I neglected to ask you about that, and I think there’s a really, But to your point dragonflies seem to have really standard, standardized, uncommon names, and that’s been very helpful I think, in the general public starting to get to know their dragonflies without having to learn Latin in the process.
[01:09:36] So it’s a, it’s great work. Okay, Sarah, is there anything else that I’ve neglected to cover or that you really wanted to say about this amazing world of spiders?
[01:09:47] Sarah Rose: I think the only thing I wanna end with would just be take your. Get to know a few of the spiders, and a lot of times that will change people’s perceptions. Peacock jumping spiders, although those aren’t native to North America at all they’re in Australia. That’s another one that, that, it’s a jumping spider.
[01:10:05] So it’s one of our gateway spiders. They have really interesting courtship rituals. We didn’t talk about any of the courtship rituals of any of the other spiders, but there’s some really interesting ways that, that the male spiders have to interact with the female spiders in order to make sure, first of all, that she’s the right species and that she’s interested.
[01:10:24] And so the peacock jumping spider is a great example where the males have flaps on their abdomen and during their courtship dance, they actually raise their abdomen up behind their head and extend these flaps, of like a peacock tail. And they’re usually bright colors and really interesting.
[01:10:40] So take your time, find a couple interesting species. Take a look at some photos, do some reading, and you’ll be amazed.
[01:10:48] Michael Hawk: And that is such a big gap here. Maybe that’s always the challenge with this sort of discussion where it’s like I said earlier, it’s like talking about world history in an hour. So there’s probably lots of other topics we could deep dive into and you. Maybe if you’re up for it in the future, we could delve into some other spider topic.
[01:11:04] Sarah Rose: Absolutely. I’d be glad to come back.
[01:11:07] Michael Hawk: I wanna thank you so much for spending as much time as you did with me today. This has really been a fascinating discussion for me. There’s a lot of little loose threads I had that you’ve been able to help answer, and I highly recommend your book for for anyone who has any sort of naturalist inclination.
[01:11:23] It’s a great book. And I’ll link to everything that we talked about in the show notes. But anyway, Sarah, thank you again so much. I really appreciate you and the work that you’ve done.
[01:11:30] Sarah Rose: Thank you.