An adventure in spider identification

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Without looking at the bottom of this post – Can you identify the spider in the pictures below?

My Seven Days of Wonder photo challenge re-ignited a passion for natural classification and identification. As a child my quirky pastime was classifying eucalypts, later, when I took up scuba diving marine invertebrates became my passion. Classification not only makes us feel clever because we can put a name to a particular living thing but it also puts that living thing in an evolutionary region which often explains their physiology, behaviors and adaptations.

Besides that, it’s a lot of fun. I like puzzles. I like nature and I like testing my observational skills.

My previous forays into classification were before the era of Google. Now I imagined, classification would be dead simple. Just put a description into google images and voila problem solved. Anybody could be a taxonomist now. No expertise required.

I searched Australian spiders with the terms like white hairy spider, spider with red band or folding spider. I couldn’t find an image that matched my picture. I scoured identification charts – which, as it turns out are of mainly venomous spiders. It appears most people only want to identify those that could potentially kill them (or at least make them very sick).

I didn’t have the luxury of looking at the underside of the critter and as it turned out I was a little misled by the circumstances of its discovery. This arachnid was found by my husband in a rusty handle of a wheelbarrow which had been lying on the ground. So I wrongly supposed this was a ground spider like a wolf spider or a funnel web. Although I knew it wasn’t the latter. That is one deadly spider I am very familiar with having grown up on the Central Coast of NSW where they are common. When my father dug out under our house to build a rumpus room we found dozens. The neighbours had a rockery and fish pond which we, affectionately, but not jokingly, called The Funnel Web Farm.

So what do you do when you are stumped? Dial a friend, of course.

I am lucky to have one of my writerly friends who is just as enthusiastic but more expert on everything creepy crawly and she not only relies on google but has those ancient but wondrous reference sources called books. So I asked Pat if she could help me out. After a few days she came back with an answer – by the way Pat only had the first picture – the one on the left to go by.

She suggested it was, a Garden Orb Weaver Spider.

She sent me a picture of a rather more chunky brownish spider. But importantly she also relayed a sentence from a book which said ‘Males have more spindly legs’.

I thought Pat was right but I wanted to be sure. I could now look at google with a specific search on the Male Garden Orb. I didn’t actually find a spider that looked exactly like ours but some similar. I learned that sometimes words are more important than pictures when it comes to identification. Apart from the ‘spindly leg’ sentence the following words on spider sites sealed the identification or Eriophora transmarina (Garden Orb Weaver Spider).

  • Garden Orbs Spiders play dead when threatened (Second picture. I’d called it folding previously – hence no hits)
  • Garden Orbs vary can vary greatly in shape, colouration and size. Apparently they can change with each moult to camouflage with their surrounds. Colours ranging from whitish(mine) orange, brown and black. From patterened with stripes to no pattern (there is a faintly distinguishable pattern on my second picture)
  • A garden Orb hides in leaf litter or bark during the day (It wasn’t a stretch for mine to hide in a wheelbarrow handle – probably more waterproof)
  • Garden Orb Weavers can be identified by the intricate rounded web – of course this was no help at all because I hadn’t seen the web but it made me feel a lot better about failing to identify this tricky shape/colour shifter.

I found only one site that referred obliquely to the Garden Orbs ability to flash red when in danger. The site showed a picture of a spider which had the same red band as mine around the middle. If this was only a temporary feature, no wonder I didn’t see it in many photos. If anybody can confirm this capability I would love to hear from you. Is there any other spiders that flash warning colours? How fascinating.

This has been a true adventure. With red herrings, sleuthing accomplices and an elusive adversary which tried its best to elude easy classification. I’m glad it wasn’t easy. I am thankful that Google images doesn’t always reveal the answers immediately. I like a bit of detective work.





One Reply to “An adventure in spider identification”

  1. I know what it is and it lives in the handle of my old wheelbarrow…gave me quite a shock on day, then I snapped it’s picture.


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