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October 27, 2004

Adventures In Journalism: Slipping on the Banana Spider

For a while there it seemed as if I could count on someone in the MSM screwing up a nature story every other week or so. Then, once I started paying attention, the egregiously misidentified species stories started to dry up.

And people say the mainstream media doesn't pay attention to bloggers. I was all ready to bid a fond farewell to the natural sciences portion of the Adventures in Journalism series, but thankfully the Associated Press--obviously mistaking my recent angling sabbatical as an early retirement--decided to return to its earlier habits yesterday morning.


A banana spider's web, saturated by a morning dew, is highlighted by the sun in the Apalachicola National Forest, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Sopchoppy, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Coale)

I'll give the AP this--there is a slight possibility that the web in question is that of a banana spider--but the critter in the middle of it, though an orb weaver, is not a banana spider.

One would think that even for the AP Occam's Razor demands that, should one come upon an orb-weaving spider sitting in an orb-weaving spider's web, one would assume that the spider in one's view spun the web it happens to be sitting on, and not go haring off on the wild assumption that the web in question was built by some other species of--now conveniently vanished--arachnid, but one would be wrong, it seems.*

Which orb weaver actually does appear above is a matter I will leave for later, as Hraka's refined and discerning audience practically demands that posts of this....nature [heh...ed] end with some sort of thrilling conclusion, and I feel that actually identifying the species above serves that purpose nicely.

It's a thrill a minute around here, isn't it?

To return, however briefly, to the subject at hand; Here's a good picture of a banana spider, which as the AP blurb asserts are indeed found in Florida. Pay close attention to the abdomen. Hell, pay sloppy attention to the abdomen. It's not like you need a microscope. For those of you not current on your spider nomenclature, the "abdomen" is the part of the body furthest from the "dripping fangs of deadly poison."

The abdomen of a banana spider is yellowish and elongated, hence the name "banana spider."

"Duh," as Fabre himself might say. Now cast your gaze once again at the spider in the AP photo. The abdomen of that spider is not yellowish and elongated. The abdomen of that spider is....brownish and round.

Perhaps it's a Turd Spider! Sadly, there is no such thing as a Turd Spider, so it is impossible even for the AP to identify it as one.

Or so one would hope.

There is a clue as what species of spider actually does appear above. Note the red legs--which for the most part would also prevent the careful (non-AP) observer from classifying it as Nephila clavipes.

Now, if there was just a red-legged orb weaver found in Florida, we could lay question of identity to rest....hey, looky here!

For those who'd like a closer look at the Neoscona species--perhaps in the (surely) vain hope of challenging my identification--here's another lovely view of one.

It's nice to be back.

*The true blue Hraka adrenalin addicts out there may wish to "take it to a higher level," and diagram the sentence above for the benefit of all.

Posted by Bigwig at October 27, 2004 02:21 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
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