Fear Not, Want Not
Spring 2018 –Erin L. Kuhn -ELK
Norman Platnic is an American arachnologist, who curated “Spiders Alive!” in July 2012 at that American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum’s research collection contains the largest spider collection in the world, with over 1 million spiders. The exhibit go’s into details on educational explorations on how the spider pre date dinosaurs. Although the spiders are still evolving and adapting, giving us endless exploitation on the subject of this species, I am more interested in the person collecting them. How did Norman Platnic happened upon the mindset of collecting spiders in the first place? What is the rhyme or reason behind the presentation of the arachnids being kept in preserved containment? I find it interesting how Platnic lables and displays his collection of spiders with the majority of them being dead when the title of the show clearly states “Spiders Alive!”
Here we see spiders being contained in small glass vials and preserved in either alcohol or ethanol. Researchers recommend ethanol, when preserving insects of this nature, because it penetrates cellular membranes and deactivates further DNase (deoxyribonuclease) activity. These are enzymes capable of hydrolyzing phosphodiester bonds that link to the insects nucleotides.
Norman Platnic is mainly interested in studying the evolutionary relationships between the different species. His interests in arachnids started when he took a course on arthropods with his wife in their sophomore year in collage. He really enjoyed trying to identify the species of spiders he would collect in his jars. Where his interests were in spiders, hers was in millipedes. Ironically one can not live without the other, as spiders need other insects (such as millipedes) as its main food source. Even though spiders are looked upon as bad omens in many different cultural superstitions, and most of the worlds human instinct is to “kill it!” when we see it in the house, but the fact of the matter is that spiders do a lot of good for us. Spiders control to population of insects. Without them insects would devour our main source of food. This would make it very difficult for Humans to exist. Norman Platnic believes we can learn a lot from evolution of spiders, to their hunting habits, to their webs, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. Platnic encourages the human population to interact with what we fear by drawing attention in his public in the shows displays.
In similar research, the (SMNS) Staatliches Museum Fur Naturkunde Stuttgart has a collection of over 3 thousand containments of different spiders. The taxonomy project follows alongside Platnic’s The World Spiders Catalog. “Being part of the zoological collection the Environmental Sample Collection of Spiders comprises more than 36,000 data records linked to ecological and habitat data as well as to project metadata. One example is the data package of 16,200 data records from the 6-year investigation of spiders of an alpine meadow in the German alps (www.einoedsberg.de).
comprises to date 36,183 more than 36,000 data sets records”
After researching the traditional cataloging of the arachnid museum collections, I came across Knight’s Spider Web Farm in Williamstown, Vermont. Will Knight and his wife Terry learned how to collect spider webs without harming the spiders. They would spray the spider free webs with white spray paint to make them easier to see. They would then adhere the webs to a wood plaque. They have collected over 16,000 webs since 1977. Back in the 70’s when Will had seen the over population of spiders on his farm, he didn’t see these spiders as an infestation, but saw them rather as an opportunity. So the story goes, a Girl scouts manual gave them the idea on how to preserve the spider webs.
The spider web prints were hung on plaques in featured on display in a red barn building. Unfortunately, on October 25th, 2016 the barn and Will’s workshop were destroyed in a fire. Will passed sometime after and Terry had a new barn built from Will’s plans. Today, It’s full of racks where you could see the spiders work on their webs, and watch the spiders nest eggs and see them hatch…. They don’t sell the webs anymore, but it’s a popular spot to take pictures.