Oct 312014

It’s that time of year again, when spiders make their triumphant return to become decorations rather than despised, and when everything normally considered scary is fun, at least for one night: it’s Hallowe’en!

As in past years, the University of Guelph Insect Systematics Lab took to the pumpkin patch and came back with some new insects to be added to our glowing growing collection.

Ento-Lantern 2014

This jumping spider in full display mode is ready to take back the night. Design by Jonathan Wojcik, carved by Meredith Miller, Tiffany Yau, Steve Paiero, and myself.

Trich(optera) or Treat! These larval caddisflies went all out with their costumes this year. Designed & carved by Meredith Miller, Steve Paiero, Tiffany & Jocelyn Yau, and myself.

Trich(optera) or Treat! These larval caddisflies went all out with their costumes this year. Designed & carved by Meredith Miller, Steve Paiero, Tiffany & Jocelyn Yau, and myself.

Sticks & stones won't break this caddisfly's bones... mostly because caddisflies don't have bones.

Sticks & stones won’t break this caddisfly’s bones… mostly because caddisflies don’t have bones.

Caddisflies get hyped for Hallowe'en at an early instar, as this one created by Meredith Miller clearly demonstrates!

Caddisflies get hyped for Hallowe’en at an early instar, as this butternut squash creation by Meredith Miller clearly demonstrates!

If you & your friends or family created your own Ent-O-Lanterns this year, drop a link in the comments so we can all enjoy!

Happy Hallowe’en!



Sally-Ann Spence (@minibeastmayhem) shared this fantastic scary-b beetle on Twitter

Feb 102014

It’s that time again, when nations around the world send their top athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics for precious medals, national pride and bragging rights for another 4 years! The 22nd Winter Olympic Games are being held in sunny Sochi, Russia this year, which opens the door for a new team to make its first Winter Olympics: Team Arthropoda!

Throughout the games, these industrious insects, sporting spiders, and other athletic arthropods will be showing they can compete with the best of us mammals, especially under the magnifying glass of international attention inherent with the Olympics — something insects and their kin are used to dealing with by now!

The 22nd Winter Olympiad officially began Friday evening with the opening ceremonies, and extravagant event showing off the natural wonders, history and culture of Russia, including an early shout-out to taxonomist-turned-novelist Vladimir Nabokov and his beloved butterflies! The athletes from each nation paraded into the Fisht Olympic Stadium lead by their flag-bearer, an honour generally bestowed on an athlete considered to be a leader for the team.

Hockey player and 2014 flag-bearer Hayley Wickenheiser leads Team Canada into Fisht Olympic Stadium during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Photo copyright Paul Gilham/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, directly under the Olympic flag on the main stage, Team Arthropoda selected the newly-named Australian jumping spider Maratus avibus to carry their colours, for obvious reasons. Described just in time for these Olympics by Jürgen Otto and David Hill, Maratus avibus is the newest delegate of the peacock spiders, and proudly waved Team Arthropoda’s flag as high as he possibly could, even if it was only a few millimeters.

Stay tuned throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics to find out how Team Arthropoda stacks up against the rest of the world!

Otto J.C. & Hill D.E. (2014). Spiders of the mungaich group from Western Australia (Araneae: Salticidae: Euophryinae: Maratus), with one new species from Cape Arid, Peckhamia, 112 (1) 1-35. Other: urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:B53D2909-07C3-4E9E-B8F2-C358650E78AF

Sep 092012
Hogna lenta group wolf spider portrait

Hogna lenta (or something closely related in the H. lenta species group) – Archbold Biological Station, Florida. These large wolf spiders are easy to spot at night by shining a flashlight off their large eyes, which reflect back a greenish light, much like mammal eyes, despite being completely different physiologically.

What would a lesson from Thomas Shahan be without a super close-up portrait of a spider? I’m stealing Dave Walter’s phrase “Adventures in Spider Misidentification” for this one though. When I took these photos I figured it’d be a cinch to identify this big spider because of those bright red margins on the chelicerae, but apparently that’s a pretty common trait in many wolf spiders (family Lycosidae). Not only that, but there is a huge amount of intra-specific variation in colours and patterns in this species group, making me less than confident in my ID of Hogna lenta.

If you have a better suggestion on the ID of this hairy hunter, please let me know! Here’s another photo that may be more useful for identification purposes.

Hogna lenta group wolf spider dorsal

Hogna lenta wolf spider – Archbold Biological Station, Florida

Aug 302012
Green Lynx Spider Peucetia viridans Florida Backlit

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) — Archbold Biological Station

Still working on flash control, I thought I’d experiment with backlighting after seeing some of Alex Wild’s phenomenal leafcutter ant photos, where the detail in vegetation popped. I only have one off-camera flash however, so I looked around until I found this Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) sitting nicely while the Florida sun shone brightly in behind, highlighting the leaves like I had hoped. From there, it was a matter of getting the correct combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO (1/200, f14 & ISO 400 in this case) to allow for the natural light to filter through the leaves, while using diffused flash to expose the spider. I’m not thrilled with the glare above the spider, and the composition isn’t great (it’s pretty heavily centered), but considering the wind was blowing the plant and the spider all over the place, I’m just happy I managed a shot that’s in focus and which somewhat recreates the scene I had envisioned! I’ll certainly be trying this trick again on a calmer day, or with a tripod and plamp around…

If you want to see a much different photo of a Green Lynx Spider, check out Crystal Ernst’s (aka The Bug Geek) incredible portrait.

Jun 092012

While taking our dog to the basement for a bath last night, my wife encountered a stairwell full of her next-to-least favourite1 arthropod — cellar spiders (Pholcus phalangioides).

Cellar Spider - Pholcus phalangioides

Cellar Spider - Pholcus phalangioides

By the looks of that egg sac, our laundry room will be well protected for the foreseeable future, much to my wife’s chagrin!



1- Renée’s least favourite arthropod being the house centipede of course.

Oct 252010

Leading up to Halloween, I thought I’d share some of the pumpkin creations that our lab creates for our annual departmental pumpkin carving contest. We’re lucky to belong to a department full of competitive and talented pumpkin carvers, so we’ve needed to up our game every year, resulting in some pretty cool pumpkin designs. We generally make an evening of it, with all the available grad students, undergrad volunteers, post-docs, lab managers, etc joining in and making some ent-o-lanterns!

2007 was my first Halloween as a grad student, and the pumpkin carving really started to take off:

Jack-o-Lantern of Jumping Spider Pumpkin Insect

Jumping Spider Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkin Insect

Composed of 3 pumpkins (one each for the cephalothorax and abdomen, and one carved into legs), we used the bottoms of popcans to recreate the globular shining eyes, and small peelings of pumpkin skin embedded into the parts for bristles. The “bristles” actually dried out over night, curling and appearing more life-like. Time for completion? 8+hours with 5 grad students.