'Ye Olde Arachnarium': spine-tingling spider science
The thought of a lab filled with spiders would send most of us into shivers. But for scientists at the University's SpiderLab this spooky scenario would be a dream come true. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, the team at this unique facility hope to convert an old aquarium on campus into an arachnarium to house more eight legged friends.
At the SpiderLab, scientists study arachnid behaviour and try to understand why it is important, as well as undertaking outreach work to show us why we shouldn't fear these fascinating creatures. Providing a home for the team's growing collection of spiders, 'Ye Olde Arachnarium' will be an important facility to help our experts spin spider science into schools, University teaching and the public eye. The team hope to expand the range of species and buy new tanks, spider 'furniture' and learning resources for outreach work.
SpiderLab scientist Dr Sara Goodacre said: "Our champion species, the Fen Raft Spider, recently won a public vote to have its genome mapped in the Sanger Institute's ' 25 Genomes Project', so it's a great time for the SpiderLab to expand physically on campus, increase the scope of our research and the work we do with schools and public science. People are fascinated by arachnids and we want to create a bespoke arachnarium that will be an ideal home for our research subjects and visitors."
The SpiderLab is already home to some impressive-looking arachnids, including 'Peaches' the Salmon-Pink Bird Eating Tarantula, 'Fergus' the Asian Forest Scorpion and 'Mr Whippy' the Tail-Less Whip Scorpion, whose species was the inspiration for the famous scene in Harry Potter's Unforgiveable Curses class at Hogwarts.
Top of the team's wish list for the arachnarium is a specimen of the biggest spider in the world, the Goliath Bird Eating Tarantula, which can grow to a leg span of 30cm. The SpiderLab inhabitants need a steady supply of food, mostly live crickets, which will also need housing in their own special tanks in the arachnarium.
The new facility will not only support research projects but will boost outreach activity, making it easier for the SpiderLab to welcome school visits and take the Spider School roadshow out to schools in the East Midlands and beyond.
SpiderLab junior researcher Ella Deutsch said: "We're really excited at the prospect of the new arachnarium and expanding our collection of these fascinating creatures. Apart from engaging the next generation of scientists, one of our main aims is to challenge public perceptions about spiders and show how they can be really useful in scientific research."