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Illustrating a tiny, tiny spider for the Cal Academy – Marlin Peterson
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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.

3/4 view of the Oonopid Silhouettella assumptia

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?


  • Hallie Elizabeth

    I can see what those latin linguists meant about the egg eyes. And I am sorry Marlin, but I am not a spider lover. You can blame it on my mother!

    March 25, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    In it something is. Thanks for the help in this question, the easier, the better …

    November 11, 2010 at 2:13 PM
  • Vista military

    The strongest spider web I know of is a Black Widows web. It is unmistakable when you run your arm into one which I have far too often. Tough and strong.
    The worst part is they come in browns now. Not all black Widows are black. What may look like the common house spider, the good guys, could be the ones you never want around your home.

    June 1, 2012 at 12:01 AM
  • Dale Bradshaw

    I have been saving some spiders which I got it in our backyard. My kids love to play with them I don’t know their names yet as its our first time to collect them. Thanks for sharing this one we would be interested to check if this one is somewhere around our backyard.

    November 29, 2012 at 7:35 PM

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