My spidey sense is tingling

When you find an ‘odd’ looking spider on your curtain, what is your normal response? Hopefully it’s not to kill it! Maybe it’s to catch it and it and take outside? Or maybe more of a Paul McCartney approach and let it be.

Well I was faced with that decision last weekend and took a different approach. I took a photo of it then left it alone and went and built a shed. However when I came home hours later and it was still there and my wife thought it may even be a katipo - further investigation was needed.

The spider in question. Happily sunning itself on my curtain. © Te Papa

The spider in question. Happily sunning itself on my curtain. Photographer: Scott Ogilvie © Te Papa

Being a weekend, it was difficult to get in touch with the right person at DOC so we kindly and gently put the spider in a jar and I took the photo in to work on Monday to show Phil Sirvid, one of our science collection managers and somewhat of a spider expert. Looking at the photo, Phil could not be sure, but narrowed it down to either a juvenile female katipo or a juvenile female Australian redback – both of which do not occur naturally in suburban Wellington. He needed to see the actual spider.

So the next day I brought the spider along to work and after the obligatory showing it to/scaring work colleagues, took it to Phil for a closer look. In a matter of seconds he had confirmed his initial suspicion that it was an Australian redback that had hitched a ride with me back from Wanaka the following week – there is a small established population there. The giveaway were the hairs on her back. They were differing lengths and relatively thinly spaced – a tell-tale characteristic of the redback. A katipo has short dense hair.

I am told that with each successive shedding of skin, the white patterning slowly fades until the spider becomes black with just the red flash down it’s back.

Adult female katipo. Photgrapher: Jon Sullivan (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Adult female katipo. Photgrapher: Jon Sullivan (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Adult female Australian redback. Photographer: Stephen McGrath (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Adult female Australian redback. Photographer: Stephen McGrath (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Phil decided this needed further investigation and has kept the spider to raise it to adulthood. While in Phil’s care, the spider has been named Faberge by researcher Sarah Jamieson, due to its resemblance to the ornate eggs of the same name. As Faberge grows, DNA samples will be extracted from her skin as it sheds. This DNA will then be sequenced and compared to DNA sequences already on record taken from the population of redbacks around Wanaka. I have just been informed that the spider has been named Faberge by researcher Sarah Jamieson, due to its resemblance to the ornate eggs of the same name.

I look forward to finding out as more as Phil’s investigation continues. And while I am indeed a fan of The Beatles, I’m glad that in this case I did not let it be.

6 Responses

  1. antony kusabs

    Cool blog Scott
    I didn’t realise their was a population in Wanaka.
    Must have been brought over by some Aussie skiers.
    Cheers,
    Antony

    Reply
    • Scott Ogilvie

      It was news to me too, Antony. It was quite a surprise finding it on my curtains in suburban Wellington!

  2. Gabby

    Is the spider poisonous? How long will it live for? Thanks for sharing Scott.

    Reply
    • Scott Ogilvie

      Yes Gabby, this is a poisonous spider but fatalities are very unlikely and no deaths have been reported since the introduction of antivenom in 1956. As it is a female of the species it can live between 2-3 years. Males will only live for 6-7 months.

  3. Olwen Mason

    Thank you for sharing that, it was very interesting. I hope you tell us what more is discovered about it.

    Reply
    • Scott Ogilvie

      Yes Olwen, I will blog about this again once we learn more.

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