Research project studies giant spiders collected by faculty member and students in expedition to Taiwan
August 13, 2008
DEARBORN / Aug. 13, 2008---Approximately 200 “amazing and very gentle spiders” have taken up residence in a lab in the basement of the Science Building on the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus. They were collected in Taiwan by UM-Dearborn biology Prof. Anne Danielson-Francois and two students who joined her on a month-long research expedition there earlier this summer.
The females of the species Nephila pilipes are approximately the size of a human hand. “Because it’s a subtropical environment, the insects grow very big and so the spiders grow big, too,” Danielson-Francois said. “They’re used to eating things as large as my fist.”
In the wild, the spiders’ diets include large beetles and praying mantises. In the Science Building lab, Danielson-Francois and her students are feeding them crickets and flies.
Danielson-Francois is conducting research on the mating behavior of orb-weaving spiders, specifically on “mechanisms of sperm competition” and the evolution of small male body size in spiders.
Nephila pilipes are an extreme example of “sexual-size dimorphism,” she said. “The males are tiny, while the females are more than five inches across.” Their webs are approximately six feet in circumference.
The students who joined Danielson-Francois in Taiwan, Nina Cole and Joseph Stude, are continuing to work on the research project here on campus. The research, a collaboration between Prof. I-Min Tso of Tunghai University in Taiwan and Danielson-Francois, has been supported by UM-Dearborn grants, as well as support from Tunghai University and external agencies.