Changing Planet

These Spiders Won’t Panic at the Disco

The silver spider of the clouds, Chrysometa tenuipes, from the family Tetragnathidae. (Photo by Elicio Tapia)

With a mirrorball for a body, Chrysometa tenuipes has nothing to worry about when it hits the clubs.

When the music is right and it’s feeling good (and its abdomen is smaller), the silvery guanine patches appear huge, shimmering and turning heads left and right.

When it’s time for a break (or when its abdomen swells up) the patches shrink, and a dull brown overcoat will help deter any unwanted attention.”

bluebottomed-spider
This blue little critter is the first Telemidae spider discovered in South America. (Photo by Elicio Tapia)

Want to see this critter for yourself? You’d be better off in the cloud forest of Ecuador’s Chocó region than on the dance floor. That’s where this one was discovered, on an expedition led by National Geographic grantee Nadine Dupérré.

Little is known about the diversity of spiders in Ecuador, but Nadine recently returned with a wealth of new information—plus photos of species never seen before.

The tiny blue-bottomed spider you see here is one of them. Though members of the Telemidae family can be found in many caves in the western United States, this is the first one discovered in South America.

How’s that possible? For starters, it’s less than a millimeter long. For finishers, it lives hidden in the moss of the aforementioned cloud forests.

Despite its small size though, it makes its presence known. The male will rub his hind legs on ridges on the underside of the abdomen to produce sound, though probably not a sound the average human can hear while walking through the jungle.

The beautifully terrifying specimen of the Micrathena genus below is more than ten times the size of the previous one! It is a true monster, measuring a spine-tingling one centimeter in length.

dark-queen-of-the-forest
Female Micrathena pilaton, the dark queen of the cloud forest. (Photo by Elicio Tapia)

Lest you think you wouldn’t be fazed by an encounter, allow Nadine to describe the typical scene:

Hidding among the moss of the cloud forest, this new species is the first worm-like Anyphaenidae discovered. Nadine Duperre researching spider diversity in Ecuador. (Photo by Elicio Tapia)
Deep in the moss of the cloud forest, this new species is the first worm-like Anyphaenidae discovered. (Photo by Elicio Tapia)

“This is an orb weaver, and it’s very common. They like the open places to build their webs, so when you walk on the trail you’ll walk straight through them. You won’t get stuck, but you’ll feel the web, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a chance to observe the spider herself.”

Micrathena females build beautiful orb webs nearly a foot across, in which they hang upside down in full daylight. They are not shy and like to pose for the camera to show off their striking spikes of various shapes and color.

Another tiny but spectacular discovery was a member of the Anyphaenidae family, sporting a bizarre, long, narrow, curvy abdomen.

This feature on other spiders is often said to be “worm-like” but hidden in the moss nearby was a caterpillar that bore a striking resemblance to the spider’s nether region. This “caterpillar-like” abdomen could serve as bait for a predator the spider likes to prey upon, but nothing is yet known for sure about the spider’s life or behavior.

Finally, if you’re wishing your own body were full of shimmery guanine, you’re in luck. It’s the “G” in the ACTG pattern of the DNA in every one of your cells.

(Though at best, the ability to harness it would probably only give you a Twilight-style glitter chest.)

Funded by the National Geographic Society

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Angie (Shrek) (Doodley) (Shrek Doodley isn’t my name sadly)

    “Panic at the Disco”
    !!!
    “Panic! at the Disco”
    Tell me if you didn’t know what P!ATD is…why choose that word choice.
    Any of my emo trinity friends here…?

  • ryan ross

    iM SCREAMING

  • alex

    idk nothin bout spiders but panic at the disco is a hella good band lmao

  • i am brenDONE right now

    I’m a fly that’s trapped
    In a web
    But I’m thinking that
    My spider’s dead

  • Animu Mango

    tbh i only clicked on this because of the patd reference

    • Andrew Howley

      I have no problem with that. Rock on, Animu Mango.
      Sincerely, The Author

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