What do you do if you are textile artists in Madagascar and want to promote traditional Malagasy weaving techniques? You make a scarf and a golden cape spun from spider silk. Using half a million dollars of your own money.
The story has been making the rounds lately, but these videos about its creation were so captivating I had to post them! A team of people labored for years to capture spiders, and then persuade them to produce enough silk to weave a garment. It’s a rather mind-boggling process:
“The spiders are harnessed … held down in a delicate way,” Godley says, “so you need people to do this who are very tactile so the spiders are not harmed. So there’s a chain of about 80 people who go out every morning at four o’clock, collect spiders, we get them in by 10 o’clock. They’re in boxes, they’re numbered, and then as they get silked, about 20 minutes later, they get released back into nature.” (NPR interview)
The Madagascar Golden Orb Weaver Spider is the spider-goose that laid the golden…er, thread. It’s estimated that 1,063,000 spiders contributed silk. The color of the silk is amazing–I had no idea! The embroidery is also beautiful, with a spider motif.
This second video has more info about the history of trying to make textiles out of spider silk, footage of the apparatus they used to collect the spider silk, and some natural history information about the orb weavers.
I also scored a copy of the book Spider Silk:Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, so I’ll be posting a review soon.
I’m a little late on this one, but since people seem to find social spiders fascinating (in a Halloween sort of way), I thought I’d mention this news story about spiders living in groups–to capture large prey!
“The average size of the prey captured by the colony increased 20-fold as colony size increased from less than 100 to 10,000 spiders,” says Avilés, who studied the spiders in the wild in Amazonian Ecuador with undergraduate student Eric Yip and graduate student Kimberly Powers.
“So even though the number of prey falls sharply as the colony grows, the biomass that individual spiders acquire actually increases.”
The study also found that large prey, while making up only eight per cent of the colony’s diet, contributed to more than 75 per cent of its nutritional needs.”
You can read the actual paper in PNAS here; it’s a nifty study.
PNAS August 19, 2008 vol. 105 no. 33 11818-11822. Cooperative capture of large prey solves scaling challenge faced by spider societies. Eric C. Yip, Kimberly S. Powers, Leticia Avilés. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0710603105
Big surprise, the media gets an arthropod story wrong. The level of wrongness is impressive, though.
The headline is “Stowaway Afghan Spider kills Family Dog.”
First, the story is about a camel spider, which isn’t actually a spider at all. It’s a solifugid, which is a relative of true spiders (Arachnida: Solifugae). They are formidable looking, and they can be aggressive.
The second error is identifying it as a “poisonous spider.” This group of animals doesn’t have venom–just huge pointy jaws. I’ve seem them eat a cricket, and it looks like they are running it through a a can opener.
Third, there is this statement: “It seems too much of a coincidence that she died at the same time that we saw the spider.” Um, yes, it IS a coincidence. Even if it was a teacup poodle, there is no way that that it was killed by a solifugid. Cut, sure. Killed, no way. Bummer about your dog, but her death has nothing to do with this.
Lastly, the story ends with this: “The desert dwelling camel spider, actually an insect rather than an arachnid….“
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. it is an Arachnid. It is Not an insect.
Does CNN not know how to work Teh Google?
EDITED TO ADD: apparently the Telegraph also cannot use the internet. Although they had fewer errors than CNN.
“Throbbing pain in the bones of the right arm. Numbness and prickling in the right arm. Small spots of intense pain on the wrist and arm. Numbness in all fingers and toes. Numbness in the lips and scalp. Feeling of gravel in the throat. Everything tasted intensely salty – mineral water from a bottle was almost undrinkable. All these symptoms receding after a couple of days, just leaving complete numbness in the envenomed finger. Strange hallucinations (!)
I went to the reception of the hotel, and asked the clerk what to do for a scorpion sting. He looked incredibly uninterested, and shrugged, and said that I could put ice on it. (I later found out he’d been stung 33 times!)”
In general, the smaller the scorpion, the more potent the venom–they need more of a punch to immobilize their victims (usually smaller arthropods). Thompson’s experience is pretty typical, except for the hallucinations. Um, those may have been from another source (*cough*).
Centruroides venom works by blocking K+ channels–which pretty quickly immobilizes a whole bunch of cellular processes. Humans are big enough, and have good enough circulation, that generally we aren’t killed like a smaller insect would be. Allergic reactions do happen, so people can die from these bites; and small children and babies can’t clear the toxin from their system well, so should get medical treatment.
Fortunately, Thompson got good advice–put ice on it, and kick back.