The big news (well… sort of)


This could be a huge discovery, something I never anticipated–I may have just found a second vegetarian spider. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, mostly because I’ve been away from WiFi for much of the past week, but before I get caught up on everything that’s happened, I wanted to get this message out there.

With a disclaimer–it’s still way too early to jump to conclusions!

Even though "jumping" to conclusions is easy.
Even though “jumping” to conclusions is easy.

First, let me be clear about how science works. In its purest form, it is a methodical collection of evidence, an overwhelming amount, in order to draw any conclusion. Scientific discoveries are not made overnight, they take many months or years to complete. The reason why so much data needs to be collected is that scientists need to be skeptical–they should never accept anything at face value or believe a claim just because somebody else made it. No, science requires a lot of work to resist arguments that can be set up to challenge it, and only the best scientific theories stand the test of time.

Evolution, by the way, is one of those well-supported theories that have stood the test of time. Image credit: Mark Hallett

So here’s what happened–I went back to visit my old Peace Corp site in Las Huacas de Quije, which was a whole experience in and of itself. Much to my surprise, they’ve now fixed the road, gotten electricity, and even have Internet (in some places, at least).

Now it only takes 40 minutes, when it used to take 2 1/2 hours.
Now it only takes 40 minutes, when it used to take 2 1/2 hours.

On my way back down, after lots of visits to people I hadn’t seen in 13 years and a search for spiders on acacia plants in el monte (the overgrown areas), I headed back down to check some acacia plants that were growing along the road.

My machete skills aren’t as good at they used to be.
Before my day ended in Las Huacas, kids were bringing me every spider that they could find!
Before my day ended in Las Huacas, kids were bringing me every spider that they could find!
Perfect acacia plants. Notice how the soil around the bottom has been completely cleared--these ants take care of their plant!
Perfect acacia plant-ant mutualism. Notice how the soil around the bottom has been completely cleared–these ants take care of their home!

On one of these plants, I found the spider that I’ve kept seeing, and this one was out on a leaf instead of hiding in her (or his) web house (called a sling). It’s actually the spider that’s pictured at the top of this post. Realizing that I needed some sort of visual confirmation to determine what it was doing on the plant, I decided that I would need to watch it for as long as it took to get some idea of its feeding behavior.

It took two full hours under the hot sun.

But finally, the spider started moving. Little by little, it methodically made its way up the plant, higher and higher, avoiding ant patrols with each move. After several false starts, it made it to a leaf with Beltian bodies (nutritious leaf tips), appeared to pluck one off, and hop back down.

This was what I was waiting for!

The ants weren’t too pleased with my presence; I was stung so many times that my fingers swelled.

Now is this spider a true vegetarian? Only rigorous testing will prove whether it is true. Now I’ll have to make video recordings of this new spider (and return to Panama, hopefully), as well as collect samples for scientific analysis which I will explain at a later date. As of this moment, I have to admit that I still don’t know much of anything, except that this new spider is awfully cute!

Just look at that face!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mrs. Tuliszewski's Class says:

    Mr. Eastburn,
    We were excited to see that you may have discovered a new vegetarian spider. We want to know that, if it is a new species, will you get to name it? If so, how do you decide what to name it? We have a few suggestions that we are looking forward to sharing with you when you return to Riverside.
    Mrs. Tuliszewski’s 5th Grade Class


    1. markeastburn says:

      Thank you for the comment, Mrs. Tulizewski’s class! Yes, if it is a new species, I will get to name it, although the first part of the name, which is called the genus, is already Freya, named after a Nordic goddess. So whatever name I give it, it will be Freya “something,” and I’ll be happy to hear your suggestions!


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