Bootylicious spiders and vampire vines

28 February 2019

If you’re an arachnophobe, you may want to stop reading… No seriously, pick another blog. 


In recent years it seems there has been a concerted push by some to re-brand this country’s eight-legged monsters (sorry spiders). No longer are they to be thought of as the stuff of nightmares, something that lies in wait for you in the corner of the shower and has to be dealt with by your father-in-law (thanks Phil!). No, gone are the days of redbacks, trapdoors and huntsman getting all the fame, instead the new pin-up of the arachnid world is the peacock spider. 


A tiny (4mm-6mm) jumping spider with ‘doe-like eyes’, a unique wiggly bum dance and colourful body, making it more akin to a bird of paradise than a venomous devil creature intent on burrowing into your ear and laying eggs.
When trying to impress a female, the male peacock spider sticks his legs and colourful abdomen flaps up in the air and shimmies around being all spider sexy. It should be pointed out that if he fails to bring sexy back there is a fair chance the male peacock spider will end up getting eaten by the female (well really what did you expect). 





Recently, on their second Expedition of Discovery, a band of intrepid nature lovers from The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) discovered one such spider (Maratus tasmanicus) dancing up a storm on a sand dune at Musselroe Wind Farm in state’s North East.


The 168MW Musselroe site is one of the three wind farms Hydro Tasmania operates as part of our involvement with the subsidiary group Woolnorth Wind Farm Holding. And it was thanks to Woolnorth’s generous financial and logistical support that the TMAG team were able to collect hundreds of specimens over their five days spent surveying the remote windswept terrain.


As part of the Expedition of Discovery, TMAG scientists studied the area around Musselroe looking for new and threatened species and, in the course of their work, documented the region's biodiversity. This work provided Woolnorth with useful environmental data to help with the sustainable management of the land and resources surrounding the farm’s 56 turbines.  


Yellow vine with small flowers growing across the groundAlongside the bootie shaking spider, another highlight of the trip was the discovery of a large population of the threatened endemic parasitic plant, Cuscuta tasmanica, also known as the golden dodder. A member of the bindweed family, this leafless vine has tiny, bell-shaped white flowers and a thread-like yellowy orange stem that it uses to wrap around a host plant before sucking out its nutrients vampire-style through tiny contraptions called haustorium. 


Make sure you keep an eye on the TMAG website for more news and updates as there is still a mass of specimens from the expedition that are yet to be fully identified.


Who knows what other parasitic plants, carnivorous creepy crawlies, or nice (and for once harmless) wildlife might turn up?


And for those of you thinking of making your own Expedition of Discovery to the North Eastern tip of Tasmania make sure you check out the Tebrakunna Visitor Centre for information on the wind farm, traditional landowners and the maritime and mining history of the region. 



Images courtesy of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.


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