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The Endangered Unknown: Spruce-Fir Moss Spider

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 2, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Arachnid, Insects, Wildlife

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The tallest peaks of North Carolina and Tennessee seem like a very unlikely place to find a tarantula but, remarkably, one can be found there. The Spruce-Fir Moss Spider, Microhexura montivaga, is one of the smallest tarantulas on Earth and is only about the size of a BB gun pellet.

The spider’s common name provides a specific habitat description of the species, since it lives under moss that grows on north-facing rocks that are scattered throughout high-elevation Fraser Fir/Red Spruce forest. Here, it constructs a tube-shaped web that it uses to catch its prey, which scientists assume to be mainly springtails.

One would think that the highest forests in remote parts of North Carolina and Tennessee would safeguard this tarantula from most threats, but that is unfortunately not the case. …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Spruce-Fir Moss Spider here

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Dung Beetles: Nature’s Cleanup Crew

By Laurel Neme
July 4, 2011
File under: Ecosystems, Education, Insects

Dung beetle in Gabon. Photo credit: Rhett Butler,

Dung beetles are part of nature’s cleanup crew. These beneficial insects eat and bury dung and, in the process, recycle nutrients back into the soil while removing breeding grounds for pests.

As their name suggests, the main food source for dung beetles is animal feces, which provides nutrition and water for both young and old. “Dung is nutrient rich,” explains Doug Emlen, a University of Montana biology professor and dung beetle expert. It’s “a far better source of [the nitrogen needed for growth] than almost anything else they could feed on, except maybe carrion.”

Before you say “ewwww,” picture a world without dung beetles. …read more of Dung Beetles: Nature’s Cleanup Crew here

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The Grass Seed and the Spider

By Corinne Kendall
June 17, 2011
File under: Arachnid, Insects, Species Profiles

Crab spider camouflages beautifully with the grass stalk

My fascination with arachnids continued as we sat in the grass having lunch. I noticed a small animal float before me and suddenly wiggle its way onto a grass stalk. Intrigued I took a closer look and discovered my first Kenyan crab spider.

Crab spiders are amazing. They use very little silk and instead rely on their stealth to catch insects. Usually they can be found on flowers, waiting for an unsuspecting pollinator, such as a fly or a bee, to come to the flower. Some crab spiders can even change colors to blend in with the flower of their choosing.

These small spiders get their names from the way they hold the two pairs of front legs, spread wide and ever ready to give some insect prey an unwelcome hug. This particular spider was camouflaging so well that it took me nearly touching it for my field assistant to see it.

Initially it had been climbing around the grass stalk unaware, but when it noticed the attention it was receiving it went into hiding mode. It looked just like a part of the grass stalk with its legs stretched out like tiny seeds.

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The Endangered Unknown: Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

By Peter Kleinhenz
June 14, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Endangered Species, Insects


Imagine the most isolated place in the world. Perhaps the middle of the Sahara comes to mind, or maybe it’s an island. But we can get more isolated than that. Imagine a pyramid of rock, less than a mile square, that is lashed relentlessly by the ocean that surrounds it for several miles.

The closest land mass is 13 miles away, but it’s only a tiny island located 370 miles from the closest continent. The image in your head accurately reflects a real place called Ball’s Pyramid. Surely nothing interesting, besides maybe sea birds, would ever inhabit such a place, right? Wrong. …read more of The Endangered Unknown: Lord Howe Island Stick Insect here

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