November 18, 2010
Dr. George McGavin and BBC Wildlife Magazine features editor Ben Hoare and staff writer James Fair have a fun and illuminating talk about insects, spiders, and other arthropods, as well as evolution, habitat loss, insects as food, and something I hadn't heard of and hope never to encounter, terrestrial leeches. About a third of the way through, listen for a nice mention of Spider Silk.
November 15, 2010
As you know if you've read Spider Silk, spiders' most voracious predators are wasps. Over at Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True blog, Matthew Cobb has an illuminating post about potter wasps. Potter wasps don't prey on spiders; they prefer caterpillars. But like araneophagic wasps, they guarantee their young get their meals in an ultra-fresh state: mother wasps sting and paralyze caterpillars and stock them live in the nests where they lay their eggs. The growing wasp larvae chew through prey that's not yet perished.
The core of Cobb's post is his explanation, based on a 1978 paper by Andrew P. Smith, of the decision-making process the wasp goes through as it builds the fortress and feeding chamber for its offspring. Experiments and observations of the type Cobb outlines give us tremendous insight into many of the behaviors of minute organisms--including spiders--that at first seem inexplicably complex.
Cobb first wrote this post for Pestival, the insect arts festival, which I hope is coming to a venue near you soon.
November 12, 2010
Milestone: An academic paper has cited Spider Silk. We wrote Spider Silk for nonscientists, and it's been gratifying to receive reviews praising our book as "conversational," "easy to read," and "difficult to put down." But it's also great to know that other biologists recognize the validity of the science supporting our narrative. Although spiders make and use silk in unique ways, many other arthropods also use silk for various purposes. Miki Kanazawa, Ken Sahara, and Yutaka Saito of Hokkaido University in Japan have discovered that female Stigmaeopsis longus, a species of social spider mites, use silk threads to clean their communal nests. If you're interested in what it might be like to live in a highly humid, capsule-like nest with tens of others of your kind, the eye-opening introduction to their paper gives a glimpse of some of the grittier aspects. But of course, if you were this self-regarding co-author, the true frisson would kick in at footnote #27.