Deadly Molting: Photo of the Week

4 January 2013 by Paige Brown, posted in Uncategorized

This is my Photo of the Week, taken in Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

This is my photo of the week for several reasons. First of all, I found this spider rather accidentally, while browsing for wildlife in the park. I couldn't help but feel a little chill when I realized there was a large spider dangling right in front of my face! I had to manually focus my 100mm Macro Canon lens to get a good focus on this creepy guy.

This photo is intriguing to me for another reason. Even though I know I must have learned about spiders and their molting process in Biology 101, I stared at this spider for several minutes wondering what I was actually looking at. Wikipedia quickly reminded me of the process:

Like other arthropods, spiders have to molt to grow as their cuticle ("skin") cannot stretch.[27] In some species males mate with newly molted females, which are too weak to be dangerous to the males.[26] Most spiders live for only one to two years, although some tarantulas can live in captivity for over 20 years.[7][28]

Spiders have an exoskeleton, not an internal bone skeleton like humans do. The exoskeleton is made of several different proteins and chitin, a long-chain glucose-derived polymer that is known to be strong and flexible. But the exoskeleton does not grow... the spider must shed the old skeleton in exchange for a new flexible (and eventually larger) one.

Creepy. My skin is already crawling.

Many species will lower themselves on a silk line during the molting process, so they're out of reach of predators while the cuticle material hardens. - HowStuffWorks

That certainly looks like what is happening here. I couldn't tell if this spider was dead or alive. He wasn't moving, and I wasn't going to disturb her/her to find out! Spiders are (understandably) very vulnerable during the molting process, as the new exoskeleton has not hardened yet.

So that is my photo of the week! If you can tell me what kind of spider this is, I will mail you a complimentary print of this photo! Just comment below!


3 Responses to “Deadly Molting: Photo of the Week”

  1. Aatish Reply | Permalink

    Is that a barn spider (Araneus cavaticus), like the kind in Charlotte's Web? Just guessing, based on the striped legs. Lovely post (exoskeletons are so cool!), and photograph.

  2. Paige Brown Reply | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment! I actually have no idea, could well be a barn spider... although looking around and given the location of this spider (hanging close to water), I have another guess... I will let a few more people guess! Send me your address (to pbrow11@tigers.lsu.edu) anyways, if you'd like a print! :)

  3. Paige Reply | Permalink

    According to an entomologist friend, this is likely an orb weaver (the barn spider is a type of orb weaver). I think this is likely either an orb weaver or a fishing spider (as seen here http://www.flickr.com/photos/myriorama/172961497/). If you guessed an orb weaver or fishing spider, e-mail me your mailing address to receive a print of this photo!

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