A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

A couple of colleagues pointed out there was something a little odd about the spider I thought was a juvenile redback spider in Scott Ogilvie’s post. This spider, named Fabergé – as in Fabergé egg, for her ovoid shape and pretty pattern-  is nothing of the kind despite my initial impressions.

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

Faberge on Scott’s curtain. © Te Papa

I got so carried away with her colour pattern that was very reminiscent of a juvenile widow spider (a group that includes species such as redback and katipo) and the connection to Wanaka (home of the redback spider in New Zealand) that I neglected to look at other characters that would have put me on the right path.

Identifying juvenile spiders is tricky. Arachnologists often rely on characters that only appear in adulthood to be sure of the identity of a species. In this case though, if I had looked at features like the eyes, I would have realised it was a kind of orb web spider even if I couldn’t be certain which species it was. It may turn out to be Colaranea verutum, a species described by arachnologists David Court and Ray Forster as having “a bewildering range of colours and patterns”, but I won’t know for sure until the spider reaches maturity. I’ll post again when Fabergé’s true identity is established.

Interestingly, the redback-like colour pattern of Scott’s specimen seems to be one that has not been recorded for this species before now. In the meantime, I am sure this is a harmless native species rather than a dangerous invasive one. A sheep in wolf’s clothing if you will, and one that has left me feeling a little sheepish!

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