Shaking the Bushes for PEI Spiders

Few share a fascination for spiders, but this summer in Prince Edward Island, the few that do are shaking the bushes in an effort to learn more about these creatures in the provincial context. It is known that 437 species of spider have been recorded in Nova Scotia and 382 species tallied in New Brunswick, but the Island list is a scant 38 species, with a few additional species located recently. Museums usually sponsor and house biological collections but the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation has only rarely made such collections; outside institutions have not filled the gap and thus spiders (and many insect and other invertebrate wildlife species) exist here in a “black hole” of ignorance.

It is easy to explain the difference in species lists but harder to obtain a remedy. However, Nature PEI is recruiting “citizen scientists” with a passion for collecting and carefully recording data on each successful expedition. The aim is to assemble at least 1,000 specimens, have them sorted by student Caleb Harding at the University of Prince Edward Island, and then identified by a spider specialist. Unfortunately, spiders are not easily identified by amateurs, and photographs are generally insufficient to allow identification for most species.

“The landscape of species distributions is altering rapidly with climate change and it will be valuable to have a baseline of spider information against which future change can be measured” says Rosemary Curley, President of Nature PEI. “As well, we know the number and variety of alien species entering Canada is skyrocketing with global trade, and the effects of introduced spiders cannot begin to be assessed without a baseline of native species. Species of European origin were recently collected on the Island and all alien species are of concern as they may negatively affect native species”. Nature PEI has been fortunate to receive funding from the PEI Wildlife Conservation Fund to enable this work.

Collection methods are many and varied for these important predators of insects in agricultural crops, including shaking the bushes, sweep netting, and setting pit traps (something along the lines of a Winne the Pooh heffalump trap, but smaller). Anyone who wishes to help improve our knowledge of Island spiders by collecting, preserving and submitting them for identification can attend a Nature PEI workshop on Saturday August 8th, 9:30 am to 12:00 noon at the Forests, Fish and Wildlife office at 183 Upton Road, Charlottetown. It will feature a presentation on spiders (did you know some species capture fish?), procedures for collecting and recording data, and a local expedition to learn how to capture and handle these critters. Local spider whiz Kyle Knysh will be on hand to share his experience with eight-leggers, supported by collectors Caleb and Bob Harding.

For more information: Rosemary Curley 902-569-1209 rcurleypei@eastlink.ca

About Nature PEI

Nature PEI is the Natural History Society of Prince Edward Island.
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