Friday, December 28, 2012

Erigone, ancient and modern

I don't know how Laurie does it. It's been a poor season for bugs; I rarely see spiders or ants or even wood bugs. An occasional midge turns up floating in the aquarium tank sometimes, and that's about it.

But every couple of days, Laurie catches me another miniscule beastie in a pill bottle. I think he must be creating them in some secret laboratory when I'm out shopping.

Today, he brought me this spider, only 2 millimetres long. He tells me that it escaped, and he caught it the second time; he hopes he didn't damage it.

And then he complains about his eyes not being what they should be!

Spider with the lid of the pill bottle. One front leg is broken off. Did Laurie do that, or is it an old injury? Spidey's not telling.

He's a male, as shown by the fat pedipalps.

This looks to be the same species as one I submitted to BugGuide last January. It was identified as a Dwarf Spider, genus Erigone. A distinctive characteristic of this genus, they told me, is the toothed edge of the carapace. I got a very blurred photo of them last time, enlarged here.Today's specimen must be a bit smaller; though I confined him under a piece of plastic and got right in close with the microscope, I couldn't be sure if I was seeing teeth or not. The teeth are smaller than the eyes, which are just visible in the photo above.

Side view. I like the long spikes on his legs.

About the name: Erigone was a mythological Greek maiden, the daughter of Icarius of Athens.
Her father, who had been taught by the god Dionysus to make wine, gave some to several shepherds, who became intoxicated. Their companions, thinking they had been poisoned, killed Icarius and buried him under a tree. Erigone, guided by her dog Maera, found his grave and hanged herself on the tree. Maera jumped into a well and drowned. Dionysus sent a plague on the land, and all the maidens of Athens, in a fit of madness, hanged themselves. Icarius, Erigone, and Maera were set among the stars as Boötes (or Arcturus), Virgo, and Procyon (Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog); to propitiate Icarius and Erigone, the festival called Aiora (the Swing) was instituted. During this festival various small images (Latin oscilla) were swung from trees, and offerings of fruit were made. (Encyclopædia Britannica Online.)

Wikipedia adds that "according to Ovid, Dionysus "deceived Erigone with false grapes", that is, assumed the shape of a grape cluster to approach and seduce her."

How the name got selected for this genus of spiders, I have no idea.

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