Sunday, 24 May 2015

Cat-faced Spider

Image: Madelyn
The spider with a cat's face!

It's just... not on its face. This isn't one of your cutesy-wutesy jumping spiders, after all.

Image: Don Loarie
Araneus gemma
Cat-faced Spider are really two, similar species who are both found in the western side of North America, ranging from Alaska all the way down to California. Both have two, cute cat ears on their abdomen and even little dimples where the eyes should be! Unfortunately their arachnid bristles are nowhere near as satisfying to the touch as luscious fur.

The smaller of the two species is Araneus gemma, where the females are usually scarcely more than a centimetre (0.4 in) long and the males slightly smaller. They tend to have a pale stripe on their abdomen who's length varies.

Image: Trappist_the_monk
Araneus gemmoides
The other is Araneus gemmoides. Females here are pretty big at up to 2.5 cm (an inch) long. It's not "tropical rainforest big", where all creepy-crawlies seem to level up and attain their ultimate form, but for sheltered souls in more northerly climes, inch-long spider is big monster spider.

This one has a short, pale stripe on the top of the cat's head which then splits into two and points at each of the ears. Males are about half the length of the female and much, much slimmer.

Image: stonebird
A. gemma
Both species are extremely variable in colour. They can be pale as straw or dark as a witch's familiar...

Image: B Staffan Lindgren
A. gemmoides
And covered in all sorts of patterns and markings.

Image: stonebird
A. gemma
A. gemmoides seems to be way more famous than their smaller cousins, presumably because of their memorable size and perhaps also because they are more likely to construct their webs near buildings where they can make use of their prey insect's wildly immoderate attraction to light bulbs.

A. gemmoides, and maybe also A.gemma, are mostly nocturnal. They spend the daylight hours sheltering in a leaf or some other safe place near their web.

Image: stonebird
A. gemma
They emerge at night to get some work done. They might fix their web, build a whole new web, destroy their old web and build a new web, or go walkabout to find a place to build a web. It's all about the web.

And if they don't have anything like that to do they'll sit in the middle of their web and snatch up any insects who get caught in their web. Still all about the web. Work, rest and play: INTERNET. I mean: WEB. Spiders were so ahead of their time.

Image: Linda Tanner
Male and female A. gemma
Speaking of play, in late summer the smaller, leaner, more athletic males have to go out and find a female with which to mate. He does that...

Video: A2daDD

And he might get eaten afterwards. Ho hum. It's called swings and roundabouts. What you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts. Or else you fall off the swings and land in the crocodile infested pool beneath. Fun while it lasted.

The female stores the male's sperm as her eggs grow and develop. She'll become increasingly egg-shaped herself as she gets plumper and plumper before fertilizing her eggs.

She's at her most rotund in the autumn months before she finally lays her eggs and wraps them all up in an egg sac. She soon dies, leaving her eggs to overwinter.

Image: B Staffan Lindgren
Come the spring, the eggs hatch and hundreds of tiny spiderlings emerge into the world. They walk, they wander, they release lengths of silk into the air and let the winds take them far and wide. They land and after seeing such sights, and after all those months crammed in a sack with all their brothers and sisters, they immediately take to a solitary life on the web.

So ahead of their time.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Tiny Chinese dragon!

Image: Moorea Biocode
Look at this guy!

I know very little about him but apparently he's a polychaete worm in the the Phyllodocidae family, also known as paddle worms. That means he's probably an active predator who wanders the sea floor in search of small prey.

Paddle worms range greatly in size and this one looks like he's on the smaller side of the scale.

Image: Alias 0591
Others get much bigger.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Spindle Cowry

Image: Klaus Stiefel
This is what happens when a snail tries to hide behind a stick!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Helmet Jellyfish

Periphylla periphylla
Oh, dear. This is a difficult one. Do I want the shiny, grey helmet that's made of metal? It's hard and does what helmets are supposed to do, which seems to be a good attribute for a helmet...

On the other hand, do I want the pink helmet that's made of jelly... and has tentacles? It's soft... but it has tentacles! What a dilemma!

Friday, 15 May 2015

Kintsukuroi: Sacred Scars

Have you ever been smashed? Completely smashed. To pieces. Like a vase or a plate. Or maybe you had some bits of you removed. Pieces. Removed. Like a vase or a plate that got smashed and one of the pieces slipped under the fridge and got lost forever.

You know what really does get smashed on occasion? Vases and plates. Butter fingers and wobbly tables have been blights on our ceramics since the very first... ceramics. Back when the primordial ceramic egg cracked open and a ceramic chicken got out and someone caught it and made a pot out of it.

That's where kintsukuroi comes in. It's the art of fixing things but, most emphatically NOT fixing things so they're good as new. Fixing them instead so their cracks glitter and shine. Taking their history - the knocks, the falls, the wear and tear - and far from hiding it, inscribing it upon their surface for all to see.

The effect is beautiful. Not an attempt at pristine, untroubled beauty, but a beauty that speaks of a journey through time and space. A beauty that allows buttery fingers, wobbly tables and stony floors to become part of its creation.

And that leads us to

Dana over at has been smashed to pieces more than most. Her particular journey through time and space has, over these past years, been terrifying and inspiring in equal measure. Hopefully there weren't too many doctors with buttery fingers or wobbly operating tables involved, but still.

Sacred Scars is her new site. It's a site for those who have had to face their own frailty and overcome it with a strength they perhaps never even knew they had. A place where they can share their story, inspire and be inspired.

She's also gearing up to create a book to go along with it. And she's asking for models!

So if you or anyone you know has a story to tell or wants to appear in the book check out:

the Sacred Scars website,
Facebook group,
or mailing list.

Tell your friends!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Elbow Crab

Image: Smithsonian Institution
The crab with elbows!

BIG, pointy elbows!
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