This Anyphaena spider seen by leptonia in Santa Cruz, California is our Observation of the Week!
Sure it’s a pretty enough spider, but it’s the story behind this find that made me choose it for Observation of the Week. And as a bonus it involves two field guide authors! (Thank you to @anudibranchmom for bringing this observation to my attention)
“I found this in my housemate's sister's ear,” writes Christian Schwarz (@leptonia) in the notes for this observation. Great writer that he is, I’ll let Christian finish the story in his own words:
She reported sensations of "extreme tickling" inside her right ear and said "I think I have a spider in my ear". When she turned her head, I was surprised at how immediately her suspicions were confirmed - as evidenced by a set of spider's legs emerging from the bowl-shaped depression at the bottom of her ear.
I inserted the tip of my pinky finger into her ear canal to prevent the spider's escape inwards. I then flushed it out of her ear with my other hand.
I caught it after it fell to the floor and moved it to a wall outside where it remained motionless for 15 minutes.
For the arachnophobes out there, thanks for making it this far! While this situation is not unheard of, it’s rare, so it’s probably not something to add to your list of concerns. Oh, and those stories of spiders laying eggs in people’s skin, or the “fun fact” that humans swallow spiders while we sleep are just that - stories. As anyone who’s encountered a spider knows, they want as little to do with us as possible.
This spider was identified as a member of the Anyphaena genus (in the “ghost spider” family Anyphaenidae) by R.J. Adams (@rjadams55), author of Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States and a great contributor to the iNat community. He tells me that the tracheal spiracle (where they breathe) of ghost spiders is located much further towards the middle of the body than other spiders, which “is likely related to their exceptionally vigorous courtship. While in many families, the wooing of a mate is a cautious and deliberate affair, but in the world of ghost spiders, it involves rapid dances and abdominal vibrations at blurring speeds.” They are harmless to humans.
Identifying a spider down to genus and species levels is often “extremely difficult” (it usually involves looking at their reproductive organs under a microscope), but R.J. says that to help narrow the field, get a close, sharp photo, especially of the eye arrangement, and “also extremely helpful would be a photo or description of the web and the habitat where it was found, whether it was crawling across a suburban backyard, in the leaves of an oak tree, running across a sandy beach, or in this particular case, in a friend's ear. :-)”
I mentioned this observation involved two authors, and of course Christian is the other one. His specialty is not spiders, however, but fungus. “My brother's love of JRR Tolkien (and his many references to mushrooms) led to my interest fungal taxonomy,” he says, “which is where the focus of my natural history interest has been anchored for ten years.” Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, which Christian co-authored with Noah Siegel, is set to be published on August 9th, and Christian is also busy doing a botanical survey in Santa Cruz and continuing his “Sisyphean task of compiling a Santa Cruz Mycoflora [and] preparing for an IUCN meeting in Oregon at the end of the month.” Here's an example of the kinds of proposals they’re writing.
Christian has incorporated iNaturalist into his Santa Cruz Mycoflora project, his botanical surveys, and his own personal explorations. He says that using iNaturalist has caused him to think more about the spatial distribution of organisms and about the total diversity of life “because I feel confident that for most any critter I encounter, there will be someone in the iNat community will be able to help me learn its name (at least approximately) or something about its ecology...It took me a while to get used to the platform, but now it's a central part of my natural history practice.”
- by Tony Iwane
- Christian also leads nature tours in the Santa Cruz area through his Redwood Coast Tours - if you’re in the area check it out!
- R.J. is trying to observe 250 species in each of California’s 58 counties - quite a quest! You can follow along in his iNat journal.
- A computer animator made this pretty convincing video of a spider crawling out of someone’s ear.
- I couldn’t find footage of ghost spider courtship, but hey, Peacock Spider courtship dancing is pretty awesome.