Friday, 18 March 2016

Whip spiders only look terrifying

 Date: March 15, 2016
Source: University of California - Los Angeles

A biologist spent several weeks in dark caves in Puerto Rico inhabited by an estimated 300,000 bats -- many of which whizzed right by him -- as well as snakes, cockroaches and spiders. He was studying poorly understood whip spiders, which are related to spiders and scorpions.

Would you be willing to spend each night in the company of 300,000 bats -- all in the service of science?

UCLA biologist Kenneth Chapin did just that, for several weeks in 2012 and 2014, while conducting research in darkened caves in Puerto Rico. In addition to bats, the habitats were home to snakes, cockroaches and spiders.

He was studying whip spiders, a poorly understood relative of spiders and scorpions. Unlike other spiders, whip spiders do not build webs, and they have very long claws.

"They look terrifying, but are actually delicate, timid and afraid of you," said Chapin, a UCLA doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology. "I was more excited than terrified."

A whip spider made a prominent appearance in the movie version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," when a Hogwarts professor tortures the animal with magic. (In the J.K. Rowling book that the movie on which the movie is based, the creature is described as a spider that doesn't actually exist in nature.)

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