Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Red-headed Mouse Spider

Image: Jason Bond
Missulena occatoria
Look at this sexy devil!

It's a male Red-headed Mouse Spider. He has a red head! Apparently "Blue-butted Mouse Spider" lost out.

Mouse Spiders are some of the most fearsome-looking spiders imaginable. Sure their abdomen is quite soft and fuzzy, same as any other spider, but the rest of their body is black and glossy like latex and leather and PVC and whips and chains and... excuse me.

Image: Karla Quintana Pearce
They also have ridiculous jaws which bulge out of their head and ruthlessly push the rest of the face out of their precious way. You can see it best in the females, who in the case of the Red-headed Mouse Spider reach up to 3.5 cm (1.4 in) long and are pretty much completely black. The males are about half her size.

This particular species is found across almost all of Australia. They spend their time within a burrow that can reach up to 60 cm (2 feet) deep and has two entrances, each covered with a camouflaged door made of silk and soil. Silk lines radiate from the entrances to act as tripwires. They vibrate whenever an insect steps on them, thus alerting the spider to the presence of a meal.

Alternatively they can pop out at night and see if there happens to be anything juicy nearby, and with their huge fangs and potent venom, that can include small lizards and frogs.

Image: Peripitus
Females need never leave their home; it's up to the males to wander the land in search of love. He does so at the grand old age of 4, when he puts aside childish things like the empty husks of consumed prey, and goes on walkabout after autumn and winter rains.

He travels during the day, which is unusual for journeying spiders. His blaze of red probably wards off predators since while Mouse Spiders are rather sluggish and not particularly aggressive, their venom is quite the opposite. They're the original odd couple!

Video: kadzbiz

The male extends his long pedipalps in front him as he walks, probably to sniff out female pheromones. After all, it would be pretty bad for him to blunder into a tripwire by accident. Once he finds a female's burrow he taps on a tripwire, no doubt with some kind of secret knock.

Females lay about 50 eggs which they keep in a side chamber of the burrow. Once they hatch, the youngsters climb out and extend a length of silk into the air, where it catches the wind and sends them off on adventures in distant lands. This is called "ballooning", and it's rare for trapdoor spiders, tarantulas and the like to do it. It's probably why these redheads have managed to spread all over Australia.

Not just a pretty face!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Bird's Nest Fungus

Image: Monica R.
Teeny bird nests with tiny eggs in! Are the fairies raising chickens now?

Friday, 18 April 2014

Jaw Worm

Image: Matthew Hooge
Molluscs range from mussels who sit around in their shell all day doing nothing, to active, wide-eyed, predatory squid. Arthropods can have 6 legs, 8 legs or several hundred legs. Chordates can have lungs and a backbone, no lungs and a backbone or no lungs and no backbone either.

These are among the most famous and diverse of the animal phyla; splendidly bountiful branches of the tree of life. But let's not allow their mind-boggling variety cause us to overlook the more stark branches with their tiny animal life that barely anyone has ever heard of.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


Image: Yanayacu Biological Station
I got myself a guest post! When it comes to big, googly eyes, few can match your average squid, let along a particularly googly-eyed squid. Ernie Allison introduces us to a noble challenger of the feathered kind.

Closely related to nightjars and frogmouths, the Potoo is the avian equivalent of your crazy uncle. You know the one—when he shows up to the family reunion you can’t tell if he’s been hitting the bottle since 9 AM, or just coming off of another Special K bender.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Four New Carnivorous Sponges

Just when you thought it was safe to step into the bathroom, researchers introduce four new species of carnivorous sponge to the "Known to Science" list.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Blind Cavefish

Image: H. Zell
Astyanax mexicanus
"Look, ma! No eyes!"

Thus spake The Eyeless One, Pallid Wanderer of the Underdark, He Who Sees Without Sight, the one they call... Blind Cavefish.
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