2001-09/10 AIR: Happyface Spiders

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Source: Annals of Improbable Research Nr. 7(5): 8 (2001)

Happyface Spiders (Theridion grallator)

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I am a forensic entomologist. Every forensic scientist's basic mantra is: Everything is possible. My professional experience leads me to believe that there is one place on earth where more than just everything is possible -- that place is Hawai'i. On this remote part of the U.S. lives a bug that directly contradicts all assumptions modern people might hold concerning eight-legged critters: that spiders are hairy, ugly and frightening. This kind of spider is anything but.

The bright yellow, red, and black patterned Happyface Spider (a.k.a. Happy Faced Spider, a.k.a. Happy Spider, a.k.a. Theridion grallator) is delightful.

(By the way: most spiders don't deserve their sour reputation. It is estimated that there as many as 170,000 species of spiders out there in the wild. Most of them basically do, in the words of a colleague of mine at Hawai'i's Bishow Museum, nothing but "finding food, seeking a mate, producing offspring, finding adequate shelter and fending off danger.")

The happyface spiders are, to me, more interesting than their brethren because there is a striking -- and easily observed -- genetic basis to the pattern on their bodies. Most T. grallator individuals are unpatterned, and therefore mutants -- those with unusual patterns on them -- they are literally easy to spot. What is weird, scientifically speaking, is that on the island of Maui, the happy types seem to follow simple Mendelian inheritance rules, while on other Hawai'ian islands the body inheritance patterns seem to be sex-limited. Theridion grallator females are a good role model for humans, in a sense, in that they guard their eggs till the eggs hatch, and thereafter catch food for the spiderlings.

Should you ever wish to quit surfing on the Hawai'ian shores and check for the better sides of the islands, go to the rainforests on O'ahu and the Big Island. This is may be your only chance to see happy face spiders. They have never been found in other parts of the world.

The photos here were taken by William P. Mull/Hawai'i Biological Survey/Bishop Museum Hawai'i.

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Dr. rer. medic. Mark Benecke · Diplombiologe (verliehen in Deutschland) · Öffentlich bestellter und vereidigter Sachverständiger für kriminaltechnische Sicherung, Untersuchung u. Auswertung von biologischen Spuren (IHK Köln) · Landsberg-Str. 16, 50678 Köln, Deutschland, E-Mail: forensic@benecke.com · www.benecke.com · Umsatzsteueridentifikationsnummer: ID: DE212749258 · Aufsichtsbehörde: Industrie- und Handelskammer zu Köln, Unter Sachsenhausen 10-26, 50667 Köln, Deutschland · Fallbearbeitung und Termine nur auf echtem Papier. Absprachen per E-mail sind nur vorläufige Gedanken und nicht bindend. 🗺 Dr. Mark Benecke, M. Sc., Ph.D. · Certified & Sworn In Forensic Biologist · International Forensic Research & Consulting · Postfach 250411 · 50520 Cologne · Germany · Text SMS in criminalistic emergencies (never call me): + · Anonymous calls & suppressed numbers will never be answered. · Dies ist eine Notfall-Nummer für SMS in aktuellen, kriminalistischen Notfällen). · Rufen Sie niemals an. · If it is not an actual emergency, send an e-mail. · If it is an actual emergency, send a text message (SMS) · Never call. · Facebook Fan Site · Benecke Homepage · Instagram Fan Page · Datenschutz-Erklärung · Impressum · Archive Page · Kein Kontakt über soziale Netzwerke. · Never contact me via social networks since I never read messages & comments there.