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DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Chloe (3)

Hairy but not so scary

Author
by Chloe
Publish date
2 May 2012
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Chloe is a keeper with Live Exhibits at Melbourne Museum.

Who knew that within Melbourne Museum there are two rooms not considered to be in Australia?

Every year Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) officers confiscate thousands of objects being brought illegally into the country through the post, airports and seaports. These items include food, drugs, plants and even live animals.

King Baboon tarantula (<em>Citharischius crawshayi</em>) King Baboon tarantula (Citharischius crawshayi)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Such illegal items can pose a significant risk to Australian wildlife. Tarantulas are a long-lived spider which can produce thousands of eggs each year. If they were to become established in the wild exotic tarantulas would have the ability to decimate populations of small native animals.

In 1996 a population of Mexican Redrump tarantulas (Brachypelma vagans) was discovered in a citrus field in Florida, America. The population is believed to have stemmed from one gravid (carrying eggs) female who was released after she was no longer wanted as a pet. Over 100 individuals were found in a single survey of the 40 acre property. The Mexican Redrump tarantula is not native to Florida but has been imported for the pet trade since the 1970s. It is thought that this incidence of releasing an exotic pet has alone caused devastating effects on local fauna. With Australia's warm climate it would be easy to find ourselves in a similar situation to Florida if we didn't enforce strict quarantine measures.

Mexican Redrump tarantula (<em>Brachypelma vegans</em>) Mexican Redrump tarantula (Brachypelma vegans)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Tarantulas with their unique markings, behaviours, and basic husbandry are popular pets in Europe and America. Many species are illegally transported around the world with collectors willing to pay hundreds of dollars for specimens. In Australia there are numerous species of native tarantulas that can be kept legally as pets.

Venezuelan Sun Tiger tarantula (<em>Psalmopoeus irminia</em>) Venezuelan Sun Tiger tarantula (Psalmopoeus irminia)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Queensland whistling tarantula (<em>Selenocosmia crassipes</em>) Queensland whistling tarantula (Selenocosmia crassipes)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
  

But what happens to the items AQIS confiscate? Many items are destroyed to protect Australia's precious ecosystem. However, some lucky spiders are spared. They get used by museums and zoos to act as educational aids.

Quarantine room enclosures off display at Melbourne Museum Quarantine room enclosures off display at Melbourne Museum
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Melbourne Museum is home two quarantine rooms where we house 14 tarantulas that were confiscated by AQIS. These spiders are housed under strict conditions which meet AQIS standards. These standards include the treatment of objects leaving the rooms such as waste, water, uneaten food and other implements. These items must be double bagged, recorded and frozen at minus 20 degrees for six weeks. The quarantine room is not considered to be in Australia territory but a grey zone within Australia.

Bugs Alive! Quarantine room at Melbourne Museum Bugs Alive! Quarantine room at Melbourne Museum
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One quarantine room at the museum is located within the Bugs Alive! gallery and allows visitors to see its inner workings through a glass viewing wall, while the other room is located behind the scenes.

Our display spiders are fed every fortnight on Saturdays. One of our 'behind the scenes' spiders is fed weekly on Fridays at 3pm live on the web.

Tarantula feeding live on the internet Tarantula feeding live on the internet
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Currently on display via the webcam is a Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana). Brazilian Salmon Pinks are the third largest species of tarantula with a leg span reaching 25cm.

Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (<em>Lasiodora parahybana</em>) Brazilian Salmon Pink tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana)
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Equipped with urticating (stinging) hairs to flick at predators, she only uses her fangs as a last resort. This girl is a keen feeder, often climbing up the keeper's forceps to get to its prey.

References:

Brazilian Salmon Pink fact sheet from WAZA

Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater from Australian Reptile Park

Mexican Redrump Tarantula fact sheet [PDF 179KB] from the University of Florida

1996 Florida Mexican redrump tarantula incident

Bug of the month

Author
by Chloe
Publish date
1 July 2011
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Comments (6)

This guest post is by Chloe, a Live Exhibits keeper at Melbourne Museum.

Garden Wolf Spiders, Lycosa godeffroyi, are commonly found on the prowl around Victorian gardens at night. They are modern spiders, or araneomorphs, in the family Lycosidae and they differ from many other spiders through their prey capture technique. Wolf spiders are active hunters that chase down their prey.

Wolf spider, Lycosa godeffroyi	Wolf spider, Lycosa godeffroyi
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife
 

During the day wolf spiders seek cover in vertical burrows, often utilising discarded invertebrate burrows, however they will dig their own if necessary.

Wolf spider emerging from its burrow Wolf spider emerging from its burrow
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Wolf spider peering out of its burrow Wolf spider peering out of its burrow, using its posterior eyes
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wolf spiders are attractive spiders, ranging in colour from black to orange-brown with striking grey patterns on their carapace. Males have large bulbs on their pedipalps and females are typically larger and more robust than males. They are common throughout southern Australia in a range of habitats.

Wolf spider Wolf spider
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife
 

Males court female through a series of leg drums and vibrations while ‘dancing’ with his forelegs.  If the female is receptive she will allow him to approach.  The male will then present the female with a sperm package on one of his palpal bulbs, (as spiders do not have penises) which she will store and use to fertilise her eggs.

Female wolf spider carrying her egg sac Female wolf spider carrying her egg sac
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sometime after fertilisation the female produces an egg sac, which she carries with her (even while hunting) under her abdomen. 30 – 40 days later the eggs hatch producing up to 200 spiderlings. The spiderlings do not immediately disperse; instead they ride on their mother’s back for a few weeks.  When they are ready to fend for themselves they disperse via silk strands.

Female wolf spider with spiderlings Female wolf spider covered in her spiderlings
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Female wolf spider carrying her spiderlings Female wolf spider carrying her spiderlings
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wolf spiders are not aggressive by nature; they will however defend themselves if provoked. The anatomy of their feet – they have three claws and no hair tuffs on the tips of their legs – means they cannot negotiate slippery surfaces. This makes them good pets because they are easy to house and care for in a glass jar or terrarium.

Wolf spider, Lycosa godeffroyi Wolf spider, Lycosa godeffroyi
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife
 

 

Links:

Victorian Spiders

Wolf spider infosheet

Live Exhibits’ trip to the Alps

Author
by Chloe
Publish date
13 April 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

This guest post is by Chloe, a Live Exhibits keeper at Melbourne Museum.

At Live Exhibits we like to keep a range of funnel-web species. This way we can represent not only the infamous Sydney Funnel-web spider, but the majority of Australian funnel-web species in our exhibits.

As it had been six years since Live Exhibits’ last trip to Nariel Valley, it was time for Jessie, Patrick and I to pack up the car and head off on a field trip in the to find some Alpine Funnel-webs (Hadronyche alpina).

Alpine Funnel-web Alpine Funnel-web, Hadronyche alpina.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Local resident Mrs Brown originally alerted the museum’s Discovery Centre to the presence of a population of Alpine Funnel-webs in the Nariel Valley and more particularly her front lawn. Young funnel-webs emerge from their mother’s burrow, find an attractive burrow site, and then burrow down, which makes for high density populations. For us, this leads to quick collection of multiple specimens.

After finding three funnel-webs around our campsite it was time to head off to Mrs Brown’s place, where she showed four large burrows. We started digging holes in the mud more than 30cm deep, a process much more lengthy than expected, using only a desert spoon to dig, trying not to destroy Mrs Brown’s lawn or injure the spiders. Finally we produced four plump female funnel-webs (which were less than happy about being disturbed) then we balanced them on a spoon to be transferred into their new glass homes.

Alpine Funnel-web Alpine Funnel-web, Hadronyche alpina
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Soaking wet with seven funnel-webs under our belt and no sign of any more, it was time to head off to Omeo.

The following day drove up the windy, fog-covered hills to Mt Hotham, where we began our search for Alpine Thermocolour Grasshoppers (Kosciuscola tristis), Alpine Blistered Pyrgomorphs, (Monistria concinna), Mountain Katydids (Acripeza reticulata) and Alpine Katydids (Tinzeda albosignata).

Alpine Katydid & Alpine Thermocolour Grasshopper Left: Alpine Katydid, Tinzeda albosignata. Right: Alpine Thermocolour Grasshopper Kosciuscola tristis.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On warmer days these invertebrates would be sitting up on small bushes and grass clumps, enjoying the sun. However on cooler foggy days, like the day of our visit, many of the invertebrates sink lower into the foliage to protect themselves against the elements, making our search a little harder and much wetter. Thankfully I had donned plastic pants and a rain coat which made the perfect outfit, although they didn’t help the situation in my boots, which contained enough water to fill a small lake.

Foggy Mt Hotham Foggy conditions for collecting invertebrates at Mt Hotham.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During the morning of searching, Patrick’s alter ego Taxon Boy didn’t let us down, helping us bag 48 Thermocolour Grasshoppers, 7 Alpine Katydids, 1 Mountain Katydid, 12 Alpine Blistered Pyrgomorphs and a female Alpine Wolf Spider (Lycosa sp.).

Alpine Wolf Spider, Lycosa sp.. Alpine Wolf Spider, Lycosa sp.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We made one final stop on our long drive back to the museum to collect some eucalyptus for our stick insects; here Taxon Boy also stumbled across some large Garden Orb-weavers (Nephila edulis) which you can now see on display in the Orb wall in Bugs Alive! at Melbourne Museum.

Garden Orb-weaver Garden Orb-weaver, Nephila edulis.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Infosheet: Spiders of Victoria 

MV Blog: TV Crew in Bugs Alive

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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