Your Backyard is Your Lab!

Using spiders as an example, see how scientists collect and classify specimens from the world around them.
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Authoring Scientists

Vladimir Ovtsharenko
Dr. Ovtsharenko is a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology.

About the Course

Did you know that you're rarely more than six feet away from a spider? Or that these abundant predators—the largest entirely carnivorous order of animals—structure the terrestrial food chain? In this seminar, Dr. Vladimir Ovtsharenko, Research Scientist in the Museum's world-renowned spider lab, introduces the study of spiders. As an example of how to study invertebrates, he explains the importance of counting and cataloging spiders, how each new species is a treasure, and why he has devoted his career to studying them. Read more.

Key Science Concepts

You are rarely more than six feet away from a spider.

Spiders live everywhere, from Alpine peaks to deserts—even underwater. There are more individual spiders, and more spider species, than in any other group of predators.

Their sheer numbers, coupled with their enormous appetites, make spiders the planet's dominant terrestrial predators. By controlling insect populations, they play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature.

Special adaptations—including spinning silk, producing venom and using sophisticated hunting tactics—have contributed to the spider's extraordinary evolutionary success.

As the strongest natural fiber known to man, spider silk is specialized for tasks such as building webs and trapping prey.

Field journaling and drawing are important techniques for arachnologists, who use specialized microscopes, cameras, dissecting instruments and illustrations to study spiders in depth.

Collecting spiders involves a variety of techniques, including sweep nets, funnel and pitfall traps, and collecting by hand.

Well-maintained collections are crucial to ongoing scientific work. Over 36,000 species of spider have been described, but they represent only a third to a half of those that still await discovery.

Course Textbooks

Spiders and Their Kin
Author: Herbert Levi, Lorna Levi, Herbert Zim, and Nicholas Strekalovsky
Publisher: Golden Guides
Edition: April 2001
Paperback: 160 pages
ISBN: 1582381569
Buy online: Amazon

Spiders of the World
Author: Rod Preston-Mafham and Ken Preston-Mafham
Publisher: Blanford
Edition: April 2003
Hardcover: 191 pages
ISBN: 081605214X
Buy online: Amazon

Graduate Credit

This course is approved for graduate credit and continuing education units from leading institutions at an additional cost. Read more.

Adams State UniversityBank Street College of EducationCity University of New YorkFramingham State UniversityHamline UniversityNorthwest Missouri State UniversityWestern Governors University

Related Courses

Interested in more from Seminars on Science? Consider these related offerings:

The Diversity of Fishes
Classification, Anatomy and Morphology
Sharks and Rays
Ecology, Classification and Evolution

Course Preview

Explore an interactive of a ground spider model, read about collecting spider specimens, and explore a sample discussion.

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"I began to see spiders in a whole new light... and look for them wherever I go!"
—elementary science teacher
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73% of educators say this course was more valuable than professional development available at the local level.

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