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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Exploring Arachnids with Harry Potter and Logan Pierce

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you know what the three unforgivable curses are. And if you’ve seen the movies, you’ll remember the scene where Mad-eye Moody demonstrates those curses in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If you’re recalling the scene now, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, he tortured and killed a spider.”

Amblypygid. The Royal Natural History. v. 6, sec. 11 (1896). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/29153712

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong (if you managed to avoid the Harry Potter craze and have no idea what we’re talking about, just smile and nod with superiority at not being taken in by our leading comment and read on). The subject of Mad-eye’s persecution was, in fact, an Amblypygid.

Sometimes called “whip spiders,” Amblypygids are an invertebrate group belonging to Arachnida but separate from spiders. They have six walking legs, eight eyes, and claw-like, extra long pedipalps modified for grabbing prey and, if you’re a male, fertile females.

Phrynus marginemaculatus from Logan Pierce's collection. Image copyright Logan Pierce. If you would like to reuse the image, contact Logan at @xMiPHISTox or via That Arachnid Keeper for permission.

Spider or not, if you’re like Ron, an Amblypygid sighting would probably provoke shrieks of terror or mad dashes to higher ground (such as atop a trusty chair that a multi-legged critter couldn’t possibly climb…). At the very least, you’re probably not feeling very inspired to seek one out as a pet.

Arachnids (including Amblypygid species Phrynus reniformis). Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/33543560
But if you're Logan Pierce, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

An arachnid enthusiast, Pierce’s love affair with these eight-legged invertebrates began at age nine, when he “picked up a book on scorpions and read it religiously.” At age fourteen, his aunt bought him his first two species (an Emperor scorpion, Pandinus imperator, and a Tarantula labeled as a Rose-Hair, Grammostola species), and he’s been collecting, rearing, and breeding hundreds of arachnids and invertebrates ever since. Today, his collection consists of over 100 specimens, representing 32 species.

When asked why he’s so captivated by arachnids, Pierce responded, “I actually have a slight fascination with their ‘strategies’ concerning prey acquisition. Another interest of mine is the way that scorpions eat their prey, with two smaller ‘claw-like’ structures called chelicerae.”

Through his profile @xMiPHISTox, Pierce recently discovered BHL on twitter thanks to a post we did on an 1841 illustration of the Amblypygid species Phrynus Ceylonicus from Sri Lanka. After engaging in a conversation with him, we learned that not only is he rearing a subadult of another Amblypygid species, Phrynus marginemaculatus, but that he maintains a Tumblr (That Arachnid Keeper) for the purposes of sharing information, care, and breeding logs for the many Arachnid species in his possession.

Amblypygi Tweet. Koch, C.L. Die Arachniden. BD. 8-10 (1841). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/37027845

One of his posts reports Logan’s experience caring for, feeding, and attempting to breed the scorpion species Brachistosternus negrei. Native to Chile, this species is rarely bred successfully in the U.S. On April 18, 2013, Pierce received a shipment of 7 specimens, which he described as “very feisty…When unpacking them and taking them out of their small holding containers I exhaled through my nose, which made one go into a stinging frenzy,” he wrote.

B. negrei from Logan Pierce's collection. Image copyright Logan Pierce. If you would like to reuse the image, contact Logan at @xMiPHISTox or via That Arachnid Keeper for permission.
After sexing his brood by searching for a “Spur” within the inner side of their fixed Pedipalp finger (Spur only present in males), Logan identified 4 females and 3 males – a good ratio for breeding. He relates his two attempts to breed his specimens as follows: “They’re aggressive breeders, and do things akin to Androctonus, such as the male approaching the female, doing what I can only describe as ‘juddering’ until he gets close to the female, in which event he will subdue the female by stinging her once and lock his pedipalps to whatever he’s able to clasp. He will then move his pedipalps from appendage up to the females…lock with them…[and] slowly drag her around, looking for a suitable spot to drop a spermatophore. Females of this species seem to be very finicky, as they’ve ended all mating attempts made by my male, even though they are adults and confirmed females.”

While breeding challenges may be expected, considering it’s an advanced activity that most arachnid-owners probably won’t attempt, even basic nurturing is not without its difficulties. “If someone were to own species such as scorpions with little known information, or almost none, the most challenging part would be procuring information to set up a habitat for them,” said Pierce.

Anatomy of Amblypygi. Pocock, R.I. Arachnida (1900). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/16788845

Logan is also currently grappling with sexing his subadult Amblypygid, which involves knocking the specimen out with CO2, pulling back the genital plate, and searching for a specific formation. A delicate procedure, to say the least. And you thought owning an arachnid would be as simple as feeding it a few crickets now and then…

Have we inspired you to choose an arachnid of your own to care for? If so, “Do your research before acquiring any invertebrate,” cautions Pierce. “I see so many people online throwing caution to the wind whilst purchasing species such as Leiurus quinquestriatus (Deathstalker scorpion), Androctonus australis, and many other highly dangerous species. I would also say that arachnids are generally shelf-pets, and should not be purchased with handling in mind, or with the intent of showing off to friends. Invertebrates can be stressed from excess handling (But this has been debated many times by people), or from bothering them too much. Any invertebrate purchased should be purchased with the intent of observation and possibly preservation.” Get more great insight and information from Logan on That Arachnid Keeper.

Amblypygids. Biologia-Centrali Americana (1879-1915).
http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/576412
If you’re not quite ready to make the leap to Arachnid caretaker, you could start by browsing some of the lovely arachnid illustrations in BHL. If you’re feeling too squeamish for that, we hope that at least this post has helped you understand the differences between spiders and Amblypygids. Just because it’s got lots of legs and eyes doesn’t mean it builds a web (…although we’re not sure how much comfort Ron will find in that).

We love the way social media allows us to connect with so many fascinating biodiversity enthusiasts, learn more about earth’s incredibly diverse flora and fauna, and share our own resources in exciting new ways. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or through a blog comment to tell us about your own biodiversity and research experiences!

Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager | BHL
* Special thanks to Logan Pierce for sharing his expertise, information, and images with us!

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