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Utah's Summer Spider Bioblitz

[image] Utah's Summer Spider Bioblitz

From the 2021 spider bioblitz. ©NHMU

By Riley Black

From Antelope Island to the wilderness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah is home to hundreds of species of spiders. To date, NHMU citizen science coordinator Ellen Eiriksson says, more than 600 spider species are known to occur in the Beehive State. But many of our arachnid neighbors are still mysterious. iNaturalist only has entries for about 200 Utah spider species, meaning that most spiders in the state are waiting for their close-up and first records on the citizen science app. 

Spiders often get a bad wrap, Eiriksson says, but they are critical parts of our state's ecosystems. "This bioblitz is intended to celebrate spiders," Eiriksson says, to get people to notice what spiders live near them, learn about spider species around the state, and collect important data about which species of spiders live in particular habitats, giving a spotlight to our eight-legged neighbors who often go unnoticed. By going virtual this year and logging occurrences through iNaturalist, people can participate in the spider bioblitz no matter where they are in Utah. "It's entirely possible that observers this year will make some first records!," Eiriksson says.

This spider-centric bioblitz really is a community effort. Something seemingly as plain as a backyard occurrence might be a rare find or represent a known species in a new place. "Even if I don't necessarily know what I'm seeing," Eiriksson says, "I know there is a possibility that someone who does know more about spiders could be excited about it." Every occurrence adds a little more to a bigger picture that builds community through wonder and asking questions about the nature that surrounds us. 

A crab spider
A crab spider by hannawacker on iNaturalist
Don't be intimidated if you haven't given much attention to spiders beyond shoo-ing them out the back door. The bioblitz makes it easy to participate, and you don't even have to go very far to start finding spiders to log. "You could find spiders inside your house, out in your yard or garden, on bridges, under benches, and so many other places," Eiriksoon says. You might find a house spider hanging out in the basement, or perhaps a jumping spider on the side of a telephone pole. Wherever you find them, they're helping nab insects - including pests - and playing their role in our state's food webs. And time spent watching them, in their own habitats, helps build understanding. "The more I've photographed spiders, I've noticed myself feeling more comfortable around them," Eiriksson says.

So let's say you find a spider that's ready to be photographed and cataloged into iNaturalist. What then? Eiriksson has a few tips for how to take a shot that would make famous, fictional photographer Spider-Man proud. "Focused images, close-ups of faces, including eyes, and shots of spiders from above" can all make spider identifications much easier, she notes. And don't forget to document where the spider is living. A shot of the spider's web, if it's made one, and where you found the arachnid can help experts interpret what you're finding.

The spiders are out there. How many can you find? 

Riley Black is the author of Skeleton Keys, My Beloved Brontosaurus, Prehistoric Predators, and a science writer for the Natural History Museum of Utah, a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.

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Category: Natural History