Sunday 21 December 2014

Christmas Spider

Image: dilettantiquity
Austracantha minax
Nothing says "Christmas" like a small, spiky spider!


Image: Robert Whyte
If you think our eight-legged, poison-fanged friends are approximately the very opposite of Christmas then take heart! It doesn't end there.

Christmas Spiders are found only in Australia and are named after the fact that they're most abundant during the hot, summer months of December and January.

Image: Kyle Williams
Speaking as a guy from the northern hemisphere, this is Christmas in a world turned upside down.

Female Christmas Spiders reach more or less 1 cm (0.4 in) long and are distinguished by their six black spikes. They're also known as Jewel Spiders because of their liberal spattering of white, yellow or orange markings.

Image: Jurgen Otto
There's also a really cool black form that can sometimes be seen around March and April.

It's the perfect gift! A beautiful jewel that can dangle from your ear or cling to a finger. And just think of the backhand slap you could give with that thing!

Image: Emily
It's a unique look and yet... it might be familiar. Do you remember the Crab-like Spiny Orb Weaver and all those crazy Gasteracantha spiders? They were a whole slew of spiky, spiny spiders clad in a vast panoply of spots, stripes and colours.

The Christmas Spider used to be included within the Gasteracantha genus but has since become the only species within a genus of its own called Austracantha.

Surprisingly (yet ever so Christmassy) Christmas Spiders often don't like to be alone. They're somewhat gregarious, building their webs right next to each other so they can enjoy the company of their friends and family.

They aren't one of those full-on social spiders that get together to gang up on insects that are significantly larger than themselves and then share the proceeds, but at least they can set aside their natural, spidery misanthropy (misarachnopy?) and tolerate each others presence for the Christmas season.

But all that is really the females.

Image: Robert Whyte
Male Christmas Spiders are rather less impressive. They're about half the size of the females, reaching about 5 mm (0.2 in) in length, and bear only small, blunt spines.

Image: ron_n_beths pics
Hot, spider on spider action
The females still have a soft spot for them, though.

Each male says hello to a potential lady-friend by spinning a silk thread between a twig and the female's web. He then thrums the thread to inform the female of his intentions and if she accepts him, she tip-toes over to him and they get to it. Romantic, like.

While I'm complaining about the heat up here in Britain, Christmas Spider eggs are overwintering during the colder months Down Under. The eggs hatch early in spring and by the time Christmas rolls around a few months later, they're all pretty much adult and don't believe in Santa any more.

That's one way of saving money...


TexWisGirl said...

like sand burs that move!

Crunchy said...

They're all the traditional colors of Christmas! Yellow! White! Orange! Black! ...

Maybe they should've called it the Halloween Spider.

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: It's yet another carnivorous plant!

@Crunchy: Maybe they should just split the difference and call it the November Spider?

Crunchy said...

Thanksgiving Spider! Pumpkin S-pie-der! Pumpkin Spice-der?

Porakiya said...

any spider can be made better by adding spikes :D

Joseph JG said...

@Crunchy: I'm thinking Cholesterol Spider might tie things up pretty well!

@Porakiya Draekojin: Of course!

Anonymous said...

Give the size difference, it's not surprising that the males scurry over, spin a web then go back to the comfort of their own web to strum a tune and get her in the mood. Great post as always.

Joseph JG said...

Thank you! And yes, those fellas have to be careful!