Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spider Sunday 3-18-12

Another reason to geek out on 3/14
If you're a dork (and if you're reading this you probably are), you know March 14 was Pi Day. What you probably didn't know -- I didn't until yesterday -- is that it was also National Save a Spider Day! Credit goes to my aunt, Heather, for passing on this reminder from Heloise. I guess it's only fitting, now that I've got spider pictures coming at me from across the country and even world, that I get my family and friends in on it too. You guys "celebrate" spider day weekly and sometimes daily on my Facebook wall on and in my inbox. You're all weird and wonderful. I shall become the spider queen and you will all be my spider-rescuing, spider-info-hoarding minions. Mwahaha!

I can't believe I didn't share this earlier
I'm not too big into Tumblr, but you all must follow this site, FACT: Spiders are Adorable, as long as they're posting content. Spider humor, spider fact tidbits, spider photos, spider macros (of both the close-up photography and humorous-text-having varieties), and all forms of spider love. Go see it.

Brown(ie) points: Brown recluse in the news
The brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa, has been featured quite a bit in the news lately -- from the apparent spread of their territory and research to better define our understanding of their range, to recent cases like college student Nikki Perez, who was almost blinded due to a brown recluse bite. It's a medically significant spider, with unique and potentially quite harmful venom, and climate change could be affecting its range, so this is important stuff. Of course, there's quite a bit of difference between the predicted "possible migration of the spider by 2020" to new areas, and the melodramatic headlines ("America in Danger!") that I began seeing this week. This is what a brown recluse looks like, with a coin for scale. Its range is the Southeast to the Midwest. And if you have a giant brown spider on your wall, it's still probably not a brown recluse. Just, you know, be smart. Most people are never bitten by any spider, so don't start worrying about inevitable blindness/ear rotting/body-part-loss/general doom just yet.

Spider sensitivity training
I love this! The American Museum of Natural History is preparing to open an interactive exhibit, "Spiders Alive!" starting in July. Sensitive to the needs of the spiders, reaching out to the humans ... everyone wins. And we get to learn more about these amazing arthropods. I'm quite fond of Norman I. Platnick, the museum’s curator of spiders (although I'm also quite jealous of his profession). A few quotes:
Of the new exhibit, (Mr. Platnick said), “I’ve always argued that it would draw as many people as the dinosaurs, if not more.”
Mr. Platnick, who has been at the museum since 1973, had long lobbied for a permanent hall devoted to spiders, insects and other arthropods. Not having one, he said, “is a major gap for a major natural history museum.”
I'm glad to see arachnids have such an awesome advocate. Now who wants to pay for me to go to the exhibit in July?

Spiders look bigger to arachnophobes
Yes, I saw the recent article. My husband agrees wholeheartedly, and feels vindicated for the many incidents in which I may have implied he's a big baby for being afraid of something half the size of his pinky fingernail. I don't know, though. I see a sea of emerald sparkles in a jumping spider's eyes, and a veritable forest of hair on its back. Maybe it's just fixation that makes the spiders appear massive.

My husband doesn't particularly care why. They're huge, according to him.

Oh, well. I've seen him watching them and photographing them when he thinks I'm not looking. And he does know there's not an army of invading brown recluses. It's a start.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spider Sunday 3-11-12

Forgive me if this one is up a little bit late. This Spider Sunday is also my son's tenth (!) birthday. The festivities started Saturday with an all-day amusement park trip, and I am already exhausted.

But onto the spiders (and a few of their relations, in this edition)!

Are Daddy Long legs Spiders?
If you're still confused about the daddy long legs issue, this video is pretty good, and it's a great mini-lesson on taxonomy in general. It illustrates why I never use the term. My only nitpick: he should say "venom glands," not "poison glands." (Two pedantic spider points in one item! I win!)

Are camel spiders from overseas invading Phoenix?
Short answer: No. Longer answer: Are you serious? No. And word to the wise (and also reporters): They're not actually spiders; and they're certainly not insects.

Speaking of camel spiders
OK, I know they're not real spiders, but more than a few people sent me blips about this film, which reaffirms all the myths we've heard (but unlike squeamish reporters, know are false) about camel spiders. Like Arachnophobia, only nowhere near as good. Still, campy fun. Starring the guy who played Leo on Charmed, apparently.

Spider silk = super substance
Dumbledore might have discovered the twelve uses of dragon blood, but I'm pretty sure we've already topped twelve uses for spider silk, besides getting in our faces and catching dinner for spiders. There's the fantastic cape from a little while ago. It might have applications for wound healing. And this week we've got violin strings from spun spider silk, and the discovery that spider silk conducts heat as well as metals, and hundreds of times better than any other organic material. Spider silk: Is there anything it can't do?

It can freak people out, that's for sure
As the farm town of Wagga Wagga, Australia faced rising floods, the people moved out and the wolf spiders moved in -- and it snowed spider silk.

OK. Now I'm really sorry for the lateness of the post. Apologies for the parting mental image. Sleep well!


Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday 5: Things I learned teaching nature photography to kids

I've been a little busy lately (I know; haven't we all), but I'm actually trying to build up a buffer so I can really write polished posts again -- funny stuff, poignant stuff, all that crap. I miss that. I'm also streamlining how I handle my blog and my various other time-sucks, so I can get to know more of you. (Find me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook; we can waste time together!)

But I have been doing stuff! Story pitches. Research. And sometimes, I even get out of the house. I taught a kids' photography workshop at the Chandler Environmental Education Center. After some first-timer fumbling, I do hope I taught them a thing or two and we all had a good time, in the classroom, but mostly in the field. It's all stuff that's old-hat to my photographer friends, and even many who've read some posts here, so I'll go a different route. Here are five lessons they taught me.

1. Streams must always be crossed. Repeatedly. Here's how to tell which side of the stream is best: It's not where you are at the moment.

Make sure you choose the mossiest, most slippery rocks when crossing. If you feel like you're slipping, fling your camera around a few times for balance. Especially if it's holding the instructor's telephoto lens.

2. You might have to go through the mud. Scratch that. You'll always have to go through the mud. Don't worry; you can take your shoes off and leave them behind for the instructor! Also, try to spread yourselves out as widely as possible, especially if there's only one adult watching you all. If she looks worried about keeping an eye on the two of you at the stream, the one by the cactus and the rest stalking the egret, don't worry. She's savoring the challenge.

3. The best place to hold a photograph is with your thumb pressed firmly into the front of the print. The best way to hold pricey camera equipment is however the hell you want. If it's your turn to borrow the telephoto lens and you notice the instructor's eyes bugging as she appears to be using the force to stop the lens from careening into stuff, don't worry. It's just another challenge! See how the game works?

4. Teachers love when you take surreptitious pictures of them. Seriously. They don't mind at all that you're clicking and giggling away in the middle of a lecture. And they especially love the up-the-nostril angle you capture from your seat.

5. Bugs are beautiful. Pooping is funny. That orange rust-colored stuff in the water is really a plant. It doesn't matter if you don't know what you're doing; just start doing it and it'll come. Smelly feathers are still worth saving. Make sure you pick up stray fishing line. Surreptitiously remove the bread from the ducks after the old couple walks away; supply cracked corn instead. Protect the birds' nests. Cormorants look like they're stuck up. Kids are freaking wonderful.