Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Peacock Spider

Peacock Spider, linocut 8" x 8", Ele Willoughby, 2017

I confess I have mixed feelings about spiders. Generally, I leave them to mind their own business. But, I follow a lot of scicomm (you know, science communication) and seem to have fallen in with a bunch of very friendly Twitter entomologists. They're a subset of the biologists. For information and contagious enthusiasm for spiders, I recommend @Cataranea. As a result I consume a lot of science journalism and learn about a wider variety of creatures than I would have known existed. So, somewhere I stumbled upon the peacock spiders, and these are a group of spiders that you can't possibly fear. For one thing, they are beautiful. For another, they dance. This is a hand-printed lino block print of the colourful Australian Coastal Peacock Spider, Maratus Speciosus. Like the name suggests, peacock spiders have vivid, patterned, multicolour abdomens (and that round opisthosomal plate) which males lift and shake, along with their third pair of legs, during a courtship display. That is, much like peacocks, the males do a fancy dance to impress the lady spiders! Unlike other peacock spiders, the males of the Maratus Speciosus also have a set of bright orange hairs (setae) along both edges of the opisthosomal plate, only visible during the courtship display, as shown in this print.

This is one of an edition of 18, printed in browns, blue, turquoise, and orange on white handmade Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper, 8" x 8" (or 20.3 cm by 20.3 cm).

In a recently delightful science communication exchange amongst scientists on Twitter, spider specialists identified the mysterious jumping spiders raining down in an astronomer's office. One mentioned that their amazing eye tubes actually function like Galileo's telescope! Before you knew it astronomers were doing some quick calculations and together they made realization that jumping spiders can see the moon! (You can read more by great science journalist Ed Yong in the Atlantic). The funny thing for me was I read this exchange while it was happening and I wasn't sure it it appeared on my feed because of the astronomers or the entomologists I follow. I've seen it claimed that Twitter scicomm is "inside baseball" with scientists communication amongst ourselves. My own experience is more "baseball adjacent" if you will. Most people are involved in science in some way, but networks are much broader than traditional scientific networks within a field of study and there is the posibility for great cross-pollination like this whimsical story.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt, linocut by Ele Willoughby
Happy birthday to astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921) who set the scale of the universe when she found the period-luminosity relationship for Cepheid variable stars. These pulsing stars in the Cepheid constellation (shown) can be used as "standard candles" allowing astronomers to determine distances to celestial bodies. 

This entire month, we're hosting Canada 150+ at the Toronto Etsy Street Team gallery, with a brief, but cool hiatus this week hosted by Tosca Teran, with events for a book launch of Suffed - Taxidermy for a New Generation by Divya Anantharaman & Katie Innamorato. On Thursday there will be the Carnival of Taxidermy book signing, 5 pm to midnight. Friday through Sunday there will be a series of related workshops (Entomology 101: Morphos & Jewel Beetles, 2- headed Chick Taxidermy and Fascinator/Wearable Taxidermy- check her site for availability).  If you come by you can see my prints of Canadian provinces and territories and all sorts of art and handmade goods. 


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