On Saturday I attended the British Arachnological Society (BAS) Spider id workshop at our very own Manchester Museum. The event was hosted by BAS Membership Treasurer, Philip Baldwin and curator of Arthropods here at Manchester, Dmitri Logunov.
The first part of the session involved Phil giving a presentation about arachnids in the UK. We have four classes of arachnids in the UK; spiders, harevstmen, pseudoscorpions, and ticks and mites (plus one naturalised true scorpion). We were concentrating today on Spiders (order Araneae), and Phil went through many of the major families of spiders we get in the UK in readiness for looking at them ourselves a little later. We also looked at the basic characteristics of spider anatomy. I didn’t realise that spider’s have legs with segments given similar names to our own. They have a femur, patella, tibia, metatarsus, and tarsus. Their legs are also numbered from I (top) to IV (bottom); so if I said look at tarsus IV it would be easy to know where to look.
It is also useful to be able to identify a spider’s family using its eyes and other characters. We can also sex a spider by looking at its palps or pedipalps (large= a male) and presence of an epigynum on the ventral surface (female). The epigynum holds the sperm, which is transferred from males using their palps, and is also the location where eggs are deposited.
The rest of the session comprised investigating and identifying to family level 15 spider specimens that Dmitri had lifted out. We looked at them under microscopes and identified them using a key (particularly the Roberts’ Spider field guide) and were allowed ample opportunities to investigate and ask questions about different families’ key identifying characteristics. There was even a Harvestman thrown in just to show the difference the orders Araneae (Spiders) and Opiliones (Harvestmen).
As with a lot of taxonomic classifications, it is important to use the latin name as the vernacular name means different species in different countries. For example, garden spider, refers to many different species across Europe and North America.
I also learned that there is still a great degree of mystery surrounding how jumping spiders move so quickly. Something to do with their hydraulics I believe; as opposed to the spring of a flea which uses potential energy.
I would like to thank Phil and Dmitri for providing such a great introduction to spider identification for me and I hope to be able to keep learning more about this fascinating class of animals.