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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fossilized Jurassic Spiders, Other Chelicerata, and Impractical Jokes


     Two weeks ago the horseshoe crab, a marine arthropod, was the topic of Partial Ellipsis of the Sun. This week, another member of the Chelicerata, the spider,  will be the focus.

      Besides the smooth transition from one arthropod to another, I was entranced by this recent large spider discovery from fine volcanic ash beds in Daohugou, China (in Inner Mongolia):



      The giant Jurassic (201-145 million years ago) male spider's body length is 1.65 centimeters long, and its first leg length is 5.82 centimeters, the largest fossilized spider found to date (as of January 8, 2014).  It was significantly different, according to researchers from the University of Kansas, from the female of the species, Nephila jurassica, to warrant an entirely new genus and family. Lots of room for discussion there! :-)

      The researchers believe that this male spider is one of the first orbweaver spiders after a detailed look at foot claws, hairs and genital organs, using a Scanning Electron Microsope (SEM). 

       The full article featuring Paul Selden of the U of Kansas is linked here:

                                     GIANT JURASSIC SPIDER IN VOLCANIC ASH

      So, how to get to impractical jokes from this giant Jurassic spider? Via the Jumping Spider, of course:




     

    

     Jumping spiders make up 13 percent of the entire air-breathing chelicerates. While the marine horseshoe crabs rely on external fertilization, air-breathing spiders use internal (but usually indirect) fertilization. 

      The jumping spider is likely the closest to what I was like after a very impractical joke involving the Jurassic time period.

       I worked on an extensive project using aerial photography and Landsat imagery for one of our biggest clients, Amoco Oil Corporation. I wrote a very detailed 200-page, single-spaced, report on the geologic basin (in the days where we had secretaries to type everything from scratch, no computers of course, and no global replace feature).











       The President of our company, Chuck, called me in one day and showed me a letter, written on very fancy, thicker-than-regular-paper AMOCO Oil Company letterhead. It was addressed to him and said something like: "On page 143 of your report we have just received, I see that Jurassic is misspelled as Jurrassic. Jurassic does not have two r's in it. I cannot believe such unprofessional work is coming to us from your company."

       I was a bit concerned, as a newly-minted 23-year-old geologist.

       "What should we do about this, Steph?" asked my boss, looking very serious. "Termination?"  

       It was only then that I heard the crowd of geologists laughing outside Chuck's door. One of my fellow geologist's girlfriend had gotten the AMOCO stationery from her work there and helped with the elaborate impractical joke.

       Jumping Spider indeed!





        How about you? What are some of the best practical or impractical jokes ever played on you? Did any of them involve words, spiders, or other arachnids?

Jurassically Yours,

Word Woman (Scientific Steph)


      
      

      

      

31 comments:

  1. I could not figure how to work this into this week's blog, but Portia Spiders are pretty interesting jumping spiders. Portias are remarkable for their intelligent hunting behavior and the capacity to learn and problem solve. Portias eat other spiders.

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  2. SS,
    I learned a lot this week, liked the KU link. My scientific vocabulary is lacking, so PEOTS is very helpful in that regard.

    I had never heard of orb weaver spiders, so cracked open my Merriam (or should that be Meriam?) Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th edition, saw that “orb weavers” have eight eyes (“octo-orbed?”). Orb, of course, means “eye,” I reasoned.

    Indeed, four of five definitions of “orb” (including # 4. EYE) involved spheres. The fifth was “something circular” but it was archaic. I checked the etymology [Latin orbis: circle, disk], which jibed with the archaic meaning, not the more modern ones, which is not uncommon, of course.

    Then it hit me. Orb weaver. The spider weaves an orb of the archaic, two-dimensional variety, a cobblewebbed disk, a circular latticework! The orb in orb weaver has nothing to do with octuple eyes, everything to do with entrapping flies.

    Still, my modern 3-D understanding of orb planted an image in my head of a spherical spider web! Hey, let’s make one of those! Or else, commission Jos Baldwin of Mobius Nautilus fame (PEOTS Dec. 23, 2013) to fabricate one. Or, better yet, convince Steph’s Friday kindergartners to tackle the challenge of bringing “spider spheres” into being. (Web-balls?)

    Spiders? My mother Helen, of pumpkin pie fame, was a “St. Frances of Assisting” all creatures great, small, or crawling. (She did occasionally slap a mosquito or swat a fly.) If someone spotted a spider in the house we had strict orders to grab a drinking glass from the cupboard, “bell-jar” the arachnoid interloper, slide a scrap of cardboard under the glass, and release the creature to the great outdoors. If one of our kittens or cats hunted one down, Helen would swallow hard and with a sigh of resignation say, “It’s just the nature of the beast.”

    (Im)practical jokes? Nothing as good as your Jurassic caper. But, my dad (Bob) loved playing them. Helen was the opposite (not able to stomach the alarmed/worried look on the victim’s face when one’s boss, for example, intones, “Termination?”

    So, it’s Bob’s birthday. Helen knows he loves playing billiards, not at home (no room for a table) but at taverns and the YMCA. She buys a cue ball and wraps it up. He opens it, feigns delight, and puts it in his closet where it gathers dust.

    Subsequently, every time there is a family celebration involving gift-giving, he trots out this “cue ball incident,“ teasing her about it, embellishing its fidelity, relishing its telling. It becomes kind of a family story/joke: “I unwrapped the cue ball and thought, ‘What am I going to do with this? A billiard cue, maybe, I could use, but nobody carries a cue ball around with them!’”

    He’s right of course. It IS an impractical gift. But my brother Mike has a theory. He thinks it was also probably the only practical joke she ever perpetrated. “She knew exactly what she was doing,” Mike says. “Mom reveled in the blend of true confusion and false delight on his face as he opened his gift.”

    Mike may be right. Helen never did let on. She did patiently let Bob joke about it repeatedly, all the while likely laughing on the inside. (The fact that Bob had been bald since about age 30 also might have played a subliminal role in her gift choice.)

    Just as it is the beastly nature of the kitten to catch the spider, and the spider to entrap the fly, it is also sometimes the nature of the least beastly among us to entrap the unsuspecting predator, play awhile with their unsuspected prey… and probably pray later to God for forgiveness.

    L’OrbaLinda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SS,
      Perhaps the 3-D spider webs that Jos Baldwin or your kindergartners might weave should be dubbed “weborbs,” “spherorbs,” or “stereorbs.” Actually, we probably need a 4-D arachnid to to do the job!

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    2. I am with your mom on spiders. I take them outside. They seem to have great wisdom, as their name suggests.

      Enjoyed your cue ball story, Lego. I shall take my cue from you and work on creating those web orbs to go with Charlotte's Web with the kindergartners.



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  3. The new genus is called Mongolarachne.
    See
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00114-013-1121-7

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    Replies
    1. Presumably "Mongo" referring to the large size? Thanks for the scoop, Paul.

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    2. And I know it's Mongolia...but I like the large size reference also.

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  4. More interesting spider photos from the fossil record, including enhanced specimens from amber (without harming the fossil):

    http://news.discovery.com/animals/insects/look-if-you-dare-ancient-spider-family-album-131029.htm

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  5. 1.65 cm? I'm not impressed. Several years ago, we tortured an arachnophobic colleague with <a href="http://www.camelspiders.net/large-camel-spider-picture.htm> camel spider </a> pictures. When he left for another practice, I made him a button that read, "CSI:NJ -- Camel Spider Investigations -- Just when you thought it was safe to go back down the shore..." ("Down the shore" is how NJ people say, "to the beach".) I now have another arachnophobic office-mate, and, I swear, that bold jumping spider picture from Wikipedia has been the wallpaper on my office computer.

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    Replies
    1. Wicked, jan. Those are pretty impressive spiders. I imagine you would enjoy many a practical or impractical joke.

      At the Marriott Lihue at the tail end of our trip (where they pick up every leaf that falls within minutes with a leaf grabber, rather than letting it decompose), I was bitten two dozen times by a spider visiting our room. I would rather they attend to the spiders and leave the leaves alone.

      Never heard "down the shore" before. Some of my favorite people on the trip were from NJ, though they lived closer to the city than down the shore.

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  6. In grad school, our department lunch room was on the 6th floor, with lots of windows affording a terrific vista of the surrounding area. Several of the people in the group were serious birders, none more so than Doug Smith, who on more than a few occasions would squint his eyes, peer at some speck off in the distance, and announce "broad-winged hawk". Sometimes it was, but more often, it was one of Charlie Walcott's pigeons coming home to roost, or something equally pedestrian.

    So, quick trip to the Spencer Gifts at a nearby mall for a rubber plucked chicken. I tied a rope into a noose around its neck, hung a "Broad-Winged Hawk" sign from its feet, climbed up to the roof of the Bio building during lunch, and lowered it over the side to dangle in front of the lunch room window.

    Our lunch table was always much more popular than the biochemists'.

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    Replies
    1. Might have been even funnier with a Pterodactylus antiquus sign around its neck...;-)

      One Halloween I wore a blue shirt with the same rubber plucked chicken on a string around my neck. Chicken Cord on Bleu, of course.

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    2. Deeelish! Many Halloweens ago, back when the term had some currency, I wore a rubber ape mask with a keffiyeh, and went as a Palestinian gorilla.

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    3. Great! New Venture: selling rubber animals/masks with clever Halloween themes?

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  7. Speaking of spiders (and since you're a puzzle person), you might want to check out the Emily Cox / Henry Rathvon acrostic in this Sunday's (1/26) NY Times. The quote, and the book it's taken from, might be an appropriate topic for a future blog post here.

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    1. Intriguing. I will check it out on Sunday.

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  8. I know this is a science & writing blog, but I also know you've got an interest in STEM education of young women, so you wouldn't want to miss this: No Girls, Blacks, or Hispanics Take AP Computer Science Exam in Some States

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    1. Wow, I was shocked to read not a single girl, black or Hispanic person took the AP Computer Science Exam in Montana or Mississippi. This organization is working to change that:

      http://gracehopper.org/

      They sponsor an international day of coding where every person is encouraged to learn and post some computer code.

      Thanks for the link, jan.

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    2. None in Wyoming, either. But no one took the exam there. Isn't that right next to Colorado?

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    3. Yes. Everyone in Wyoming is busy fracking wells. And to the south...

      We have had a cluster of earthquakes over the past few months in the Raton Basin, south of Pueblo, CO, straddling southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. There is publicity on the web saying shhhhh, don't mention that there is petroleum development and fracking there...Consider it mentioned here.

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  9. Montana and Wyoming are 2 of the 3 states where we base nuclear ICBMs, and according to recent reports, nearly everyone cheats on those missileer exams, so I guess an AP CS exam doesn't generate much interest.

    For some reason, something about this reminded me of when they caught Ted Kaczynski in that cabin, coincidentally during the BSE scare. Someone suggested a new license plate motto: "Montana: At Least Our Cows Are Sane".

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    Replies
    1. And there are more cows than humans so that may be a good thing.

      Did you hear the NPR piece about computer coding this afternoon?

      http://www.npr.org/2014/01/25/266162832/computers-are-the-future-but-does-everyone-need-to-code

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  10. Silly. Everyone uses gasoline, too, but we don't all have to be petroleum geologists.

    So, did you get to the Cox/Rathvon acrostic? I have the Anthes book on reserve at my library; report to follow...

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    1. The NPR story surprised me, too.

      I got to the Cox/Rathvon acrostic once a major front blew in with a very forceful wind...my favorite clue was CAIRNGORM for the Scottish smoky quartz.

      I will add the Anthes book to the list. I may be missing something but I don't see why the spider proteins need to be extracted from the Utah goat's milk. Why not extract them directly from spiders? What's the advantage to getting them from the goat's milk?



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    2. Spiders tend to be pretty small, and don't make that much silk, in terms of tonnage. Goats, like cows, are bred for heavy-duty milk production. If you can insert a spider gene into a goat, you can get a lot more silk protein.

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    3. Says the guy who posted a photo of enormous spiders! Was that real, by the way?

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  11. No, the giant camel spider pic was a hoax.

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    1. Thought so.

      Silk Milk: haven't I seen that already? ;-)

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  12. Curds ... whey ... OK, I get it.

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    1. Cute. I never saw that angle.

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    2. Clever, Paul. So are you an entomologist, etymologist, or, being east coast-ish, Entemannologist, or, methinks, perhaps at least 2 out of 3?

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