How could you not want More Spider?!
August 25, 2014 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Entomologist and photographer Alex Wild on the process of photographing a funnel-web spider: These Spider Fangs Aren’t Going To Photograph Themselves. "Most photographs involve some combination of creativity and constraint, and this one was no different."

Bonus tweet: "I can't understand why no one has bought my new, relaxing throw pillow yet."

More on insect photography at his SciAm blog Compound Eye, amongst them the series Recipe for a Photograph 1 2 3 4 and some notes on photographing uncooperative insects 1 2 3. (Note: SciAm's Compound Eye page lists only a year of posts; but searching for common words like the includes up older posts in the results.)

More stunning photographs at his gallery website; more entomology writing at his other blog, myrmecos.

Previously on Metafilter: That stings! Macro photos of insects stinging.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (47 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

I want to want that throw pillow but my god do I not want it.
posted by 256 at 7:10 PM on August 25 [10 favorites]

Oh fuck you.
posted by kbanas at 7:12 PM on August 25

I mean not you you, but you know what I mean. Fuck.
posted by kbanas at 7:13 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

posted by echocollate at 7:17 PM on August 25

posted by 90s_username04 at 7:20 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]

Oh, poor spider, being poked repeatedly to evoke a threat display. (I mean, I'm wholly certain no spiders were harmed, but still, spider was definitely annoyed to create this picture.)
posted by gingerest at 7:24 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

I got an Atrax story! We (me and my lab mate, both spider researchers) were out looking for spiders in Lamington national park, and one morning there was a spider on the roof of the tent (on the outside). So my friend tries to flick it off from the inside of the tent, and after a few tries it slides off the roof and lands just in front of the door of the tent. And then we take a look at it, and we immediately recognise it as Atrax because of the threat display. First and only time I've seen it in the wild.
posted by dhruva at 7:33 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

These are beautiful.

posted by vapidave at 7:55 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

So my friend tries to flick it off from the inside of the tent, and after a few tries it slides off the roof and lands just in front of the door of the tent.

It's so strange to me that the next line of this story isn't, "And then they found us mummified inside the tent some months later."
posted by kbanas at 7:58 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]

This pillow will be just great for those nights when I want nothing more than to SCREAM MYSELF TO SLEEP.

(Amazing photographs of what I have to admit - despite what my DNA tells me - is a beautiful and remarkable creature.)
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:00 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

I am not clicking on that link. I want to sleep tonite.

Nope. Not looking.

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:42 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

Oh, spider threads. How I love you so.

You can have a MeFi thread about heights or the dark and people who were scared of those things would probably say "Hey, a thread about that thing I'm irrationally terrified about; let's maybe read something else instead."

But with spiders you know the exact opposite thing will happen, over and over. Hours of entertainment.

Cringe! Cringe for my amusement!
posted by sourcequench at 9:12 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]

I know phobias are irrational and all but seriously guys it's just a spider.

and spiders are probably on your neck right now
posted by shakespeherian at 9:40 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]

Oh for cute. They're fuzzy!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:45 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

Hm. I know what someone's getting for Christmas.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 PM on August 25

spiders you know the exact opposite thing will happen, over and over.

So true, I'm quite tired of the nope,-kill-it-with-fire talk that is inevitable with any spider thread.
posted by dhruva at 9:54 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]

The best thing about those pictures is that you can feel them walking on you.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:24 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

sourcequench: "Oh, spider threads. How I love you so."

The way in which certain topics, especially spider-related ones, are received around here is tiresome, sad and rude. Here is a very carefully curated FPP with a number of interesting links from someone who clearly put time into what they were doing and many of the responses are just noise and lolz.

The culture of the site long ago moved away from tolerating people who wander into e.g. US football threads and shit all over them, but it's all systems go for spider threads. And it pisses me off for a number of reasons:
  1. Spiders are pretty cool things!
  2. We actually have spider experts here on the site and that sort of lulzy KILL IT WITH FIRE comment does nothing to encourage them to stick around and try to have a discussion.
  3. For those of us who do think spiders are cool and want to learn about them/talk about them/share experiences, it shuts our opinions out. How can we have a discussion thread if you're just shitting on what we're trying to talk about?!
#2 pisses me off the most. I'm glad dhruva has posted, but I'm related to a spider researcher who's on metafilter and it's like pulling teeth trying to get her to comment in spider threads sometimes, because she doesn't feel like it's worth her time to make a comment from first-hand experience of working with the animals because when you come into these threads you usually can't see anyone talking except all the folks spouting "NIGHTMARE FUEL ZOMG" -- and who has the energy to try starting up a discussion amidst all that?

I appreciate that you find spiders scary -- I have phobias of my own! -- and perhaps you don't agree that they can be beautiful and intersting animals, but if you literally have nothing else to contribute maybe stay quiet for once and let a space develop in which people who like these beasties and experts who know a lot about them can actually discuss the topic in question?

Thanks for the post, We had a deal, Kyle! Awesome selection of links and pics that I hadn't seen before. I love all the inside-baseball discussion of trying to get small beasties to stand still for photographing, and the results are spectacular!
posted by barnacles at 10:39 PM on August 25 [23 favorites]

US football threads and shit all over them

Just wait for a cricket thread.
posted by pompomtom at 11:18 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]

Guess I'm lucky then. I think spiders are cool, I love reading about them AND I enjoy the lulz.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:26 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]

Spider pictures! We bought a low-power digital microscope (brand name "Zoomy") for a preschooler who loves spiders and other creepy-crawly animals. We use it at least a couple times a week. Get one if you want a very simple kid-proof (so far) USB microscope for things like bugs. It gives you about 40x magnification stills and movies. It uses bright LED lights to light up the subject. It's not fancy and 40x isn't very much, but it's cheap, super simple, and (so far, anyway) unbreakable.

But does anyone have tips on getting captive bugs and spiders to sit still without killing them? If they fly or are quick runners, they are nearly impossible to get a good shot of up close. This is a microscope, not a zoom lens. You have to get within a centimeter or so. Could we maybe cool them in the fridge or freezer to temporarily slow them down without killing them? We're 100 percent catch and release. We don't want to make corpses.
posted by pracowity at 11:58 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

The only way I can think of to get an insect to hold still without killing it (hopefully), would be to use something like filter paper over a vacuum cleaner, but I have no idea how effective that would be.

For some of them, putting out food might work, but you'd need to find a way to kill the lights on the USB, or they'd probably be to scared to get close...
posted by YAMWAK at 2:30 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]

Maybe a nylon stocking would work better than filter paper.
posted by YAMWAK at 2:36 AM on August 26

Cooling in the fridge definitely slows them sown (freezer could kill them). But in case of smaller bugs you won't have a lot of time before they're back in action.
posted by hat_eater at 2:46 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the heads up on the 'Zoomy' microscope, that sounds interesting.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:22 AM on August 26

Because this thread needs it (even though I'm an arachnophobe):

/╲/\╭( ͡° ͡° ͜ʖ ͡° ͡°)╮/\╱\
posted by zombieflanders at 4:24 AM on August 26 [10 favorites]

Zombieflanders, I think you may have mistaken this for a John Carpenter thread!
posted by C'est la D.C. at 5:02 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]

For all you Nopey McNopersons, the linked gallery contains some fantastic insect macro photography and has all the spiders corralled into their own folder for avoidance purposes. I'm pretty sure I've seen this guy on The Muppet Show, and you need never waste your weekly AskMe on "Are These Bedbugs?" again.
posted by drlith at 5:13 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]

I don't think I'll ever be committed enough to science to let something bite me just for the photo-op.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 5:20 AM on August 26

does anyone have tips on getting captive bugs and spiders to sit still without killing them?

What I do when I need spiders/bugs to remain still is give them a dose of CO2 for a few minutes. This immobilises them for a while. But I have a large CO2 container, and I don't know how easy it is to get in small quantities. Maybe repurpose a soda making device? The freezing technique sort of works, but sometimes spiders curl into unnatural positions which makes for weird photos.

Another trick is to immobilise spiders with rubber bands. I generally knock them out with CO2 first, so I don't know how feasible this is. Basically you take a small piece of cork or board or something. Fix some soft spongy material onto it. Place immobilised spider onto it. Place rubber bands in such a way that the legs can't move, basically 2 bands on either side of the body. The bands should fall over the legs and nothing else. Even when they wake up, the can't move, and the sponge prevents damage. After photography, you can release them and they're none the worse. Of course, this works best with larger spiders.
posted by dhruva at 6:14 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]

does anyone have tips on getting captive bugs and spiders to sit still without killing them?

We used ether in a first year bio lab to knock out fruit flys so we could count them, for reasons I can't remember now. No idea how easy or not it is to get your hands on ether is though.

We might have taken a few whiffs of the ether bottle ourselves, just to make sure it was working.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:33 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]

The way in which certain topics, especially spider-related ones, are received around here is tiresome, sad and rude.

Just because some of us didn't pen a 300 word paean to the glory of arachnids or responded with cheeky monosyllabic replies doesn't mean we

1. don't appreciate the links,
2. didn't read the links,
3. are thread shitting all over your Favorite Thing.

Settle down, bubba. It's all good.
posted by echocollate at 6:49 AM on August 26

It's not so much thread shitting as it is taking turns going "eww, gross!" in a wanton display of vertebrate privilege. I'm being facetious but someone spoke on behalf of the spiders or FPPers of spiders and is asked to settle down with a straw man (they didn't ask for a certain type of comment, just less of the "eww a bug where my favorites at" turds) because they suggested that our unbecoming childlike response to bug posts might be discouraging participation.

That's it right, we have all agreed that making fun of vertebrates of all stripes and even non striped vertebrates is Bad. But throw on a chitinous exoskeleton and watch the nopes fly.
posted by aydeejones at 7:19 AM on August 26

I say "our" because I've always been a noper in my heart and have probably said it once or twice. I still remember throwing an issue of Ranger Rick across the room because it had a wasp closeup. I will be mindful of my nopery.
posted by aydeejones at 7:22 AM on August 26

I killed a spider this morning in my bathroom. I am still okay with my evening nope.

I did click on the link with the spider throw pillows last night. Anyone who was involved in the creation of that shouldn't be surprised when normal human reaction to such soft fluffy abomination results in nope-age.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:32 AM on August 26

I killed a spider this morning in my bathroom.

Spiders are easy to capture (with a glass and a card) and release outside. It just takes a minute.
posted by pracowity at 7:50 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]

Settle down, bubba. It's all good.

It's not, though; I'm with barnacles on this in that the inevitable and utterly predictable "nopes" are boring and especially if they're keeping actually interesting and knowledgeable people from commenting, then maybe the "nope"sters could consider keeping their comments in their heads.

We had a large and lovely orb weaver building a web across the bottom of our back stairs last week/ten days, for nearly a week running. Then she vanished, and I haven't seen her in our backyard since. Bums me out because it's been a weirdly warm August and there have been mosquitoes, which I would like her to eat.

Loved these photos, and the description of how they got made. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]

Had a beautiful orb weaver drape across our back door last week. Luckily she was up high enough that the dogs could go outside without disturbing her but we were unable to use the door. I was about to try to safely move her but was worried about hurting her. Thankfully she moved of her own accord though I'm sad I can't watch her ( I have no idea where she went)

Coming up pretty soon we should get a bunch of the red orb weaving variety all around the back of the house and I'm stoked to get watch them.
posted by Twain Device at 9:32 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]

From an aesthetic perspective, I wasn't that impressed with the photos by Alex Wild. The flat backgrounds of most of his photos takes away any context of their environment, and makes them much less interesting, in my opinion.

In contrast, those that did have background and depth were much better. For example, the beetle standoff was much more interesting than the beetle sex against a white background.
posted by miss tea at 12:35 PM on August 26

does anyone have tips on getting captive bugs and spiders to sit still without killing them?

I will cool them down if I have to, but I also have a light tent thingy (like this). It is open on one side and I will throw a piece of posterboard (white or colored) inside. It doesn't stop an insect, spider or frog from running around, but it does keep them semi-contained and most will settle down on their own. I used it the other day for this spider, a fast species but this one was missing a few legs and was dehydrated (someone gave it to me), so it was pretty chill.

I am often more surprised about how willing to be photographed many small animals are. Using a small glass panel from an entertainment center to take photos of the underside of a gecko while it can easily jump to freedom? No problem!
posted by snofoam at 3:45 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]

Spiders are easy to capture (with a glass and a card) and release outside. It just takes a minute

Not when you are sitting on the porcelain throne in flagrante without your glasses and the large arachnid is striding confidently toward your bare foot. Then, wadded up tissue takes care of the problem but only because shoes, a heavy book, or a swatter were nowhere in reach. Besides, outside has too many spiders to start with and I don't need to add another.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:07 PM on August 26

Something interesting about spiders that differentiates them from insects that I just recently learned.

"Muscles attached on the inside of the exoskeleton contract to move the legs inward, but spiders don't have any muscles to extend the legs back out again. Instead, they have to force bodily fluids (mainly blood) into the legs to push them outward. If a spider loses too much body water, it can't generate the necessary hydraulic pressure to push its legs out. This is why you sometimes see spiders on their backs with their legs curled up."
posted by Rhomboid at 8:08 AM on October 6, 2006.
posted by vapidave at 8:46 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]

We have a very generous complement of spiders here in NW Missouri, including a type of orb weaver that tends to build their webs in the worst possible locations (in terms of human traffic is concerned) and always right at face height.

Never a dull moment.
posted by metagnathous at 2:56 AM on August 27

What the hell, there are spider experts on mefi? Why haven't any of you answered my question? =(
posted by curious nu at 12:30 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]

heh, it was 2 yrs ago! Dunno how I missed it.

Anyway, I'll give it a shot. Spiders weave many different types of webs, and the amount of silk per web can vary greatly. So it depends on what spider you're talking about. I found this paper which compares several types of spiders (with different webs) and this may be a reasonable answer to your question. (Surprisingly there are very few studies about it, I just assumed that this information would be more readily available. )
The paper is "Energetic cost of web construction and its effect on web relocation in the web-building spider Agelena limbata" ( (I can send you the paper if you want). But to summarise, ratio of energy cost of web construction to daily standard metabolic rate ranges from 0.021 (orb web spider, small web) to 23.6 (sheet-funnel web). Of course the daily energy intake depends on how much prey the spider gets, and there is some work suggesting that spider webs are designed for catching large rare prey rather than small frequent prey.
Some spiders (mostly orb web spiders) rebuild their webs frequently and they eat the silk to conserve energy, but others build more 'permanent webs'. In which case the energy investment into the construction of the web is quite large.
posted by dhruva at 8:30 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]

Thanks! I think I have access to it through university, will check it out.
posted by curious nu at 8:41 PM on August 28

I like spiders and am married to somebody who's mildly (amusingly, to me) arachno-averse, so I'm in favor of most kinds of spider discussion. Informative? Yes please! Amusingly not-in-favor? Cool enough.

I don't make him look, but I do enthuse vocally about "ohhhh, lookit these cute peacock spiders! Oh, they're dancing! Hi, cutie! Whooza handsome spider?"
posted by Lexica at 9:32 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

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