Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fourlegs - a huntsman with only four legs

I have a new favourite, who I worry about every night. He is a juvenile huntsman, Holconia immanis, who has been in the wars. He has only four legs, and they are all on one side. Every leg has been dropped at the at the coxa-trochanter joint, near the body. He also seems to have lost the palp on his right side as well. I have not read of spiders dropping palps, but they are more correctly called pedipalps and are small legs, so that seems reasonable. (Click on images for a larger picture, if you really want to.)

Fourlegs, the night I first met him.

Dropping the legs has been done voluntarily by the spider. The ability for a spider to decide to drop the leg is called autotomy, which is under the spider's control. Apparently they don't do it under anaesthesia. Muscles close over the joint, the haemolymph (blood) pressure then presses on the joint membrane and seals the wound.

To drop four legs, poor Fourlegs must have been in a tight spot - either something had caught his legs, or he had trouble extracting them when moulting - so the legs are still in the shed skin. If bitten by a wasp or bee, the spider can drop the leg before the venom gets to its body. I don't know Fourlegs' story, but given it was four at once on one side, I am tending to believe it was a moulting mishap.

If Fourlegs moults again, then the legs will regrow, although they will probably be smaller and weaker. But at least he'll have them. If he's an adult, then this is it for life.

I've seen lots of spiders with seven legs, a few with six and even occasionally five. But never four. And all on the same side looks horrible.

The good news!!! Fourlegs was feeding last night. You can see the mashed black thing he is holding to his mouth, which is on the underside of his front section, his cephalothorax. He is using his left palp over on the right side and often seems to balance by bringing his left foreleg right across.

Fourlegs feeding, on the second night.

He also seems to have spun some silk around and is using it to help maintain balance. He looked very weird with his legs in a strange position, and hanging suspended, but I wonder if it was the only way he could hold his prey. I was sure he was dying, but he was there again tonight, and all is well.

Fourlegs balancing to feed.

He has been out for three nights now - so has survived this way for at least three days. Not far from the same spot. I will keep you updated if I see him again.

Just in case you want a lovely photo to finish on, I did manage to photograph a spider of the same size and species a few nights earlier, about ten metres from Fourlegs' current location. I have decided that it was him - because I want to. Don't look too closely and spoil my delusion. The rose thorn gives you an idea of his size.


Please don't make any gory or sick jokes about my spider. I am extraordinarily fond of Fourlegs and desperately want him to survive, moult and have to be renamed Eightlegs.

6 comments:

  1. for me, this would be all the reason I would need to capture him and nurse him back to health. I know, it is not the naturalist's way to do that, but I cannot help myself, I am extraordinarily fond of spiders, especially the less than perfect ones. My fist wolf spider was named Seven, due to the fact she was missing one leg. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I would do that too!!! I'd feed him crickets and talk to him in a squeaky voice.

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  2. I did think about collecting him and keeping him, but I have never kept a spider in captivity and worry that he would do worse in my care than left to fend for himself. That was why I was so overjoyed to find he was feeding. I try to be a naturalist and observe - I suspect there are few observations of four legged huntsmen in the wild, but I am extraordinarily fond of, and concerned about, Fourlegs. I haven't seen him this morning, but that is usual. They are much more active at night. I go out and check every hour! I don't expect to keep seeing him - they tend to move around, but I can hope.

    In terms of nursing him, I have no source of food for him - no crickets. Our pet shops don't sell them because spider keeping isn't common. Hopefully I will see him again and update this blog.

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  3. I admire the spiders ingenuity! He will be okay. I think this would serve by making him an even better spider in the future.

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  4. I haven't seen him for two nights now. But as huntsmen move around, that's no reason to assume he hasn't survived. I'll keep hunting for him.

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  5. OOOOOOPs, he was not a juvenile. I saw him a month later, still with only four legs, but clearly engorged palps. Had he been a juvenile, then he would have regrown the legs with subsequent moults. But he didn't. Last I saw he was only a few metres from his usual location, but clearly ready to mate. I will post the photos when I get this blog active again in a week or so.

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