Illustrating a tiny, tiny spider for the Cal Academy
This extremely tiny spider (~1mm across!) is called Silhouettella assumptia and is from an elusive and little known family of spiders called Oonopidae. They are known to lay people as the “goblin” spiders, but to latin linguists in labcoats the Oonopidae means egg-eyes.
Illustrating a spider requires special techniques. They are different from insects in that their exoskeletons aren’t as hard all around- many parts will shrivel up so they must be stored in alcohol. That’s why you don’t see all the gorgeous spiders of the world mounted in cases next to insects in Natural History museums! (…but not to discredit the world’s bias for insects and against all things arachnid- it is real!! you must teach the next generation to love them!) For example if you try to dry and mount a spider, likely the abdomen will quickly resemble a raisin. A terrible inconvenience.
For this project I had to keep the specimen submerged in liquid so that it wouldn’t dry out, and surprisingly (to me) sand is used at the bottom of the liquid petri dish to help steady it. This enables me to study under a stereo microscope and a powerful light. I also had access to “stacked focus” digital images if many different angles. I had the experts around me at the Cal Academy to help me come up with the illustrated posture, (and crucially) the relative lengths of the legs.
I rendered the image in gouache, and stroked the many different colored hairs in colored pencil right over the paint…a great combination! The original drop shadow I painted underneath was quite disappointing, so I opted to make a subtle digital one instead.
Are there any other spider lovers out there on the WWW?