Steven’s Christmas spiders

by Steven Williams, Oxford Brookes University research student

Described by A.G. Butler in 1873 as ‘the most gorgeously coloured spider in this genus’, Gasteracantha scintillans, with its metallic green iridescent abdomen, is the first of my Christmas Spiders.

Spiky and sparkly: Gasteracantha scintillans

The beautiful colour of the abdomen certainly has a very festive feel and it would not be out of place next to a bauble on a Christmas tree; at least not in my house. This species and the other closely-related metallic Thorn Spiders are currently only found on the Solomon Islands.

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is one of the locations where my second Christmas spider, Austracantha minax, can be found. Although not as striking as the metallic green of Gasteracantha scintillans, the layout of the abdominal spines on this spider almost give it the appearance of a star – perfect for the top of a Christmas tree, no?

Austracantha minax: starry, and found, amongst other places, on Christmas Island
Austracantha minax: starry, and found, amongst other places, on Christmas Island

The common name of ‘Christmas Spider’ is attributed to this species because in areas of Western Australia it is associated with the arrival of Christmas as the males reach maturity in mid-December and females in January.

Did you know that there is also an Eastern European folk tale of how tinsel came to be included in Christmas tree decorations? The legend tells of how spiders spun cobwebs on a poor family’s undecorated Christmas tree overnight. In the morning the webs turned to gold and silver and the family never lived in poverty again. So when you put the tinsel on the tree this year you could imagine you are a spider spinning a web!

With that spidery festive thought, have a very Merry Christmas from everyone at the Museum!

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