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Beautiful Bolas Spider

Sunday, October 16, 2011

This must be the autumn when we find all the cool bugs. Arachnids. Organisms.  Maybe it’s because there are four of us looking all the time. Liam came into the studio to get me. He said, “There’s this cross between bird poop and a spider. And it’s on your headband on the kitchen table. When I blow on it it moves. So I know it’s a spider. But it looks just like bird poop.”
So I quit what I was doing and hurried into the kitchen to find the organism precisely as billed: a cross between bird poop and a spider.
It had affixed itself to the elastic sweatband with a little pad of cross-hatched silk and seemed happy to hunker there, its legs wrapped around its face, pretending to be poop.

I was immediately captivated. Its abdomen was so shiny, so round, so fully packed! A quick search of my books and the Net revealed that Liam had gifted me with Mastophora hutchinsoni, one of five Mastophora species in the U.S. Their common name is bolas spider. This was a newly mature female, ready to produce her egg sacs.

Having raised so many orphaned baby birds, I have to say that this spider looks exactly like a fresh fecal sac (those membranous avian “diapers” that enclose the droppings of baby birds still in the nest, which enable the parent birds to remove the droppings and keep the nest clean). It's got the white urates and the brown swirl of feces and, without going on too long about how much it looks like poop and how incredibly beautiful that is, it is perfect in every detail.

This is obviously a potent anti-predator strategy. Nobody wants to eat poop. So this spider can go about her bidness without worrying too much about getting picked off.

Observing her for quite awhile, it became apparent to me that this is a spider who is highly concerned for her safety. With such a big heavy abdomen, she would need to be careful about falling like a stone on a hard surface. Everywhere she crept, and she didn't creep far, she laid down silk, guywires and safety lassos to catch her should she lose her footing. And when she eventually did, there she hung, safe, with my palm as backup. She was cool and heavy as a quarter.

 You'd think a spider with such an impressive abdomen (aka silk factory) might spin a fabulous orb web. And she is related to the orbweavers. But no. What this spider does is ever so much cooler than that. It is a trickster, a faker, a skilled cowgirl among spiders. And I will tell you more Tuesday. For now, please just be content to admire her poopoid beauty.


Brilliant defense!

Oh man...that is the coolest thing ever!!! What a beautiful spider.

"Nobody wants to eat poop". You heard it here first folks! Really swell find. I have never seen a Bolas.

I am a lifelong, seemingly-incurable arachnophobe; I appreciate and am amazed by spiders at a distance, but when I encounter one in person (especially unexpectedly,) the hair on my neck rises up and I get a strong case of the heebey-jeebs.
That said, I go out of my way to never kill spiders; they are fellow spinners, after all.

You have managed the incredible: I read through your post, studied the photos (even closely! without heebie-jeebs!) and have developed a little crush on this gorgeous creature.
Congratulations! I can't wait to read more about her!

Yay. Can't wait for the next episode!
And Liam: perfect.xom

Loribird, you have made my everlovin' six-eyed day.

I found a caterpilar one time that was a perfet bird poop mimic. Damned if I know where the pics are now...

I was delighted to have some giant swallowtail caterpillars (called orange dogs, cool!) on a citrus tree. Wonderful bird poop mimics - then, if you touch them ever so gently, they pop out these big orange horns—surprise!

miss weezy in texas

The more I explore my backyard the more I love the spiders. I started watching birds in the yard but now I'm almost as fascinated with the other wide world of nature out there in our little space in s. tx. You have done a great job of showing the fascinating life of the smallest parts of nature.

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