White Lady Spider
The “dancing” white lady is only one of many uniquely adapted spider species found here in the Namib. Consider this a first installment…
Named after a famous rock painting in Namibia, Leucochestris arenicola is large (over five inches across) and inhabits long silk lined burrows. It is found only in the sand sea and the dry Kuiseb Riverbed, and its burrows tend to be located near the base of dune slopes. Their large holes are covered by an interwoven sheet of sand and silk, which make them very difficult to find. During the heat of the day the spiders rest deep below ground, but they become active at night. Positioning themselves upside down in their tunnels, they “listen” for vibrations with sensitive hairs lining their long legs. When a bumbling creature is heard above, the spider rushes to the surface and ambushes the prey. Common species taken by white ladies include palmato geckos, beetles, and even other white lady spiders (more on that soon!).
Males traverse long distances from their burrows at night in search of mates. In order to advertise their presence, they tap rhythms on the surface of the ground with their legs. If a female is pleased with what she hears, she may exit her burrow and mate but unsatisfactory males can be eaten instead. I often see the tracks from this tapping behavior while walking in the dunes around Gobabeb, but few people have ever been able to see the behavior which causes it.
This past weekend I went camping and was lucky enough to find some of this amazing white lady courting first-hand. The photos capture a cannibalistic female (on top) I found eating an under-performing male (on the bottom). I also witnessed some tapping behavior, which is featured in the BBC clip below. The BBC clip covers some of the fascinating research being done by Dr. Thomas Nørgaard here at Gobabeb.