Free-ranging spiders at Melbourne Museum?

17 July, 2011

An Orb-weaving Spider behind the scenes at Melbourne Museum.
Bugs Alive! Spider specimens in the laboratory
Image: Michelle McFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I was admiring the huge live Orb-weaving Spiders at Melbourne Museum when I suddenly realised there was nothing separating us – no glass, no screen, nothing. Why don’t the spiders escape? Or do they? 

Answer: Orb-weaving Spiders need a large open space for their webs. In the wild, they build their huge webs between trees or large bushes. The Melbourne Museum displays its live Orb-weavers in a large room in the Bugs Alive! exhibition. And yes, there is nothing between the visitors and the spiders – except air.

The space contains a number of tight wires which run from floor to ceiling. The spiders attach their webs to these wires. The room is darkened, but spotlights turn on and off intermittently, highlighting the spiders in their webs.

Orb-weaving Spiders tend to stay in their webs during the day (when the Museum is open). If they do roam, they do so at night. So, every evening, the Museum’s Live Exhibits keepers place screens across the display to stop the spiders from escaping.

The spiders on display are not the only live Orb-weavers at Melbourne Museum. Behind the scenes the keepers maintain a small population of Orb-weavers for breeding purposes. These spiders are placed on a frame consisting of a wooden base and two long sticks angled away from each other. The area between the sticks provides a large central space for the spiders to build their webs within.

The frames are not placed in an enclosure and the Orb-weavers are free to roam within the temperature-controlled room they are kept in. However, like their relatives on display, these spiders tend to stay where they're put (which is a good indication that they like the conditions we’ve created for them).

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