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SEM Scanning Electron Microscope Goblin Spider

Seeking Out Spiders

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The Museum is home to the largest collection of spiders in the world, one that is still growing through the fieldwork of scientists such as Norman Platnick, Curator Emeritus in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology. Platnick, who has discovered and described more than 1,600 new spider species, says there are many more to find.

“Collections are the only way we can document the plants and animals with which we share this planet,” says Platnick. “For groups that are as poorly known as spiders, there are many areas in the world where they have not been collected at all.”

One of his recent collecting efforts, in late 2010, took Platnick and his team on a month-long expedition into the cloud forests of northeastern Ecuador. Science Bulletins, the Museum’s multimedia program that covers current science, followed the researchers as they worked day and night seeking out spiders from the forest floor to the high canopy.

Tags: Science Bulletins, Spiders

17.-Mexican-red-knee_RM-270

Exhibits Alive!

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On July 28, the Museum’s new exhibition Spiders Alive! will offer visitors access to the hidden worlds of arachnids, from red-kneed tarantulas and burrowing trapdoor spiders to the feared black widow and gargantuan goliath bird eater.

The Museum has a long tradition of live-animal exhibitions, from Frogs: A Chorus of Colors to The Butterfly Conservatory. When selecting live species for shows, curators and exhibition staff must consider lighting, placement, temperature, and in some cases, an animal’s age or sleeping habits. “Animals have personalities and preferences,” says Museum Curator Darrel Frost, who oversaw the 2010 Lizards and Snakes exhibition. “There are some fascinating animals that can’t be shown because they don’t do well with people or the exhibition environment. To put them on display, you’d have to put them in an uncomfortable situation.”

Tags: Spiders

stenoonops

Spinning Goblin Spider: Stenoops peckorum

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This posterior lateral spinneret, a silk-spinning organ of a spider, features frond-like setae and whorls of exoskeleton. It belongs to a female Stenoops peckorum, a newly discovered species of goblin spider from southern Florida.

This species was among 17 new species of goblin spider discovered in 2010 by Norman Platnick, the Peter J. Solomon Family curator emeritus in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

Despite their fearsome name, goblin spiders are tiny. They tend to be less than 2 millimeters in length. The spinneret pictured above is approximately 30 micrometers across, roughly the diameter of a thin strand of hair.

The five protrusions at the center of the spinneret are spigots that produce a single type of spider silk. The silk, sometimes in combination with silk from other spinnerets, can be used in any number of ways, including reproduction or navigation, but not for a conventional prey-trapping spider web.

“All spiders do make silk, they just don’t always use it to catch food,” says Platnick. Instead, goblin spiders hunt down and devour whatever small insects they can catch.

Tags: Spiders

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