I'm back! Now, about that spider ...
Laurie brought me a small, fat spider a couple of months ago. As far as I can tell, it is a male false black widow, Steatoda grossa. (I could be wrong; I often am.) I was getting ready to clean out old duff and add a few tasty morsels to his cage the other day, when I noticed that he was hanging oddly in a mess of catkin fluff.
|Seen from the belly, against the light.|
Usually these spiders sit in an elegant pose, with the legs arched high above the body, "toes" spread wide. Now he (answers* to "Spotty") was hanging belly-up, with each pair of legs meeting at the tip. I thought he might be sick, or unhappy with the catkin fluff, which bothers some spiders, so I touched him with the tip of my tiny paintbrush. He didn't move. I gently pulled the catkins fluff away, leaving him hanging by his own web. He promptly let go and dropped to the bottom. So he was alive and responding. I let him rest. The housecleaning could wait until he was ready.
Half an hour later, I checked back. Spotty was lying upside-down on the bottom of his box, twitching feebly. I looked closer; what was wrong?
|Nothing wrong, at all. He's molting. 7:14 PM.|
He seemed to be still connected to the old skin, by the tips of his legs; it moved when he twitched. He looked exhausted, pale and wan; his cephalothorax and legs were almost transparent.
I notice, looking and measuring the photos, that his new legs are about 1/3 longer than the old ones.
|6 minutes later, 7:20|
I watched for the next 35 minutes, as he struggled, weakly - oh, so painfully weakly! - to disengage from the old exoskeleton and to turn himself upright. At times, it looked as if he were about to give up and just let himself die; it was hard to let him suffer and not try to help.
|Over half an hour later. 7:57 PM.|
He finally righted himself and struggled over to a pile of duff. There he rested for a long time. He didn't have the use of the legs on the left yet; they lay together, stretched out; at least the joints were working on the right.
An hour later, as I watched, he dragged himself upright, and climbed an inch up the duff. Another rest. Next time I looked, he was hidden.
By the next evening, he was up and about, hunting, looking like his old self. But a bit bigger.
|The legs are still tranbslucent; by the next day, they'd darkened and developed their old sheen.|
BugGuide has a series of photos of another small spider molting; comparing with mine, I realized better what was happening to Spotty, here.
In the first BG photo, the lynx spider is hanging in the same position; upside-down, toes together.
Typical position assumed by most spiders before shedding.Good! Now I know, for next time.
Stretching. This is performed by most spiders as soon as they are free of the old skin.