Baby mantids

Since this blog has just turned into “pictures of lab pets” here are some blurry photos of baby mantids!

I did eventually have to separate these guys as they just wouldn’t stop eating each other. Unfortunately, there were a few I didn’t have pots for so I ended up with a sort of mantid hunger games. I have named the survivor Katniss.

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Baby snails

Our lab tech keeps Giant African Land Snails and today some of her eggs hatched. I was going through the photos I took of them when I realised I had taken so many I had effectively filmed one of them them in stop-motion.

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I’ve also cleaned a few of them up and added the to the lab pet gallery. We’ll all be getting baby snails in our christmas stockings this year!

Mantid Mating!

We’ve just had the second (apparently) successful pairing in our lab preying mantis population and this time we had a camera handy!  The female is Victory and the male is Suicide.  Victory caught and ate three locust during the course of the copulation but thankfully all her jumping around didn’t seem to deter Suicide.

Spiders and other peoples’ photos

Quite some time ago I set out to learn how to keep and breed jumping spiders. Well, despite the complete romantic incompetence displayed by the late Baby, my two female Plexippus petersi each produced several clutches of eggs and I am now swimming in spiderlings. I recently gave some of them away to a fellow PhD student Tom Houslay who is (thankfully) a far better photographer than I am. To see photos of the babies, as well as many other awesome spiders, check out his Flickr page here.


At long last all but one of our mantids have reached adulthood.  A couple came through their final moult a little odd (we think the humidity was a bit low) but all are eating well and will soon be ready to mate.  The sex ratio is a bit male-biased, but we have three females so with a bit of luck that will be enough to get our colony going (it also means it’s not so much of a problem if a few males get eaten along the way). Here are some lovely photos courtesy of Paris Veltsos.

Yet more spiders

The last few weekends I’ve been helping out at an outreach event at the Bell Pettigrew Museum. The event, Gardenlife: biodiversity in urban gardens, is part of the British Ecological Society’s Centenary Festival of Ecology and is designed to get children interested in the awesome little creatures you can find in your garden. It means I get paid to run around with sweep nets and pooters catching insects and spiders to bring back to the museum for identification.

One of the coolest finds so far has been a rather unfortunate cucumber spider.


As you can see the little guy has been parasitised by a wasp (probably a Pimplinae of some sort but don’t quote me on that). The spider is still very much alive as the larva will eat around its vital organs in order to avoid killing it for as long as possible. My plan is to keep the spider until the wasp pupates as I’ll have a better chance of identifying it then.

Overall it’s been an unlucky week for spiders as my male Plexippus petersi Baby died two days ago. While sad, this has given me an opportunity to get some shots of him under the microscope (a previously impossible task).  One of his close-ups is below and I’ve added the rest to the gallery.


Lab pet update

Our Ampulex wasps arrived yesterday!  They are so pretty!







Rapacious has reached adulthood!  Hopefully the other mantids will soon do the same and we can aim to start breeding them in August.


We now have a controlled temperature room.  The plan is to move the mantids plus some of our other lab pets into there to free up incubator and bench space.

Our current set-up in the incubator
Our current set-up in the incubator
The new CT room
The new CT room

Jumping spiders

My obsession with jumping spiders (or Salticidae as they are properly known) started during my undergraduate honours project when I spent several months carefully photographing (sadly deceased) specimens from twenty nine species in order to study their body shapes. (For some idea of the amazing variation in body shapes amongst the  Salticidae check out this video by Dr. Wayne Maddison, and then check out everything else he’s ever done, it’s totally worth it.) As most jumping spiders are small (the largest just push 2cm in length) it’s not until you get them under a microscope you realise quite how beautiful they are.  Many of the species in my study were covered in flecks of gold and silver.  They also have giant forward-facing eyes which have made them hugely popular with wildlife photographers (as a quick Google image search will reveal).

One of the photos from my undergrad project.  This particular spider is Heliophanus patagiatus
One of the photos from my undergrad project. This particular spider is Heliophanus patagiatus

My enthusiasm for jumping spiders only grew as I became more interested in sexual behaviour.  As the now-famous video of peacock spiders shows, male jumping spiders often perform complex courtship displays.  One of my long-term career goals is to study sexual conflict in these spiders and how that may have shaped these elaborate behaviours; I recently decided that a good first step on my way to this would be to actually keep and breed one of the commercially available species.  Thus two weeks ago I became the proud owner of a breeding trio of Plexippus petersi courtesy of Exopet (who also supplied some of our mantids).  I named them after cultivars of kiwi fruit (don’t ask why) so the girls are rather appropriately named Fuzzy and Golden and the male is Baby.  All three are happily settled in and feeding well of the endless supply of drosophila from the genetics labs.  I’ve even see Baby displaying to the females (I’m hoping to get a decent video up next week).

In the meantime here are some of the best photos of Baby I’ve managed to get.

Check out those pedipalps
Check out those pedipalps

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Look at his little face
Look at his little face

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