Jeff Bolingbroke Parks Canada Internet Content Officer
When I heard that a group of researchers from Victoria’s Royal BC Museum had been issued a Parks Canada permit to study spiders in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks, I jumped at the opportunity to see what they were up to.
We weren’t able to meet up while they were in either national park, so I joined them for a morning of high-elevation spider-hunting on Mount Mackenzie, just across the Illecillewaet valley from Mount Revelstoke. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada
Meet Claudia Copley, Robb Bennett and Darren Copley (in that order). Claudia is the Senior Collections Manager for Entymology at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC. Robb and Darren are taxonomists. They spend their summers touring the province in search of spiders to add to the museum’s collection. The rest of their year is spent in front of a microscope, examining their finds, determining whether they’ve discovered any new species, and contributing to the growing body of arachnid knowledge. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada This year their focus was on the alpine, an area that hasn’t seen much spider collecting in the past. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada I was a little disappointed to be looking for spiders outside our national parks, but was assured that spiders are very accomplished aerialists – they’d have little trouble extending a strand of silk, catching a favourable gust and flying across the valley to the Clachnacudainn range of Mount Revelstoke National Park (visible at left of photo). Biologists call this process ‘ballooning,’ and jet-setting spiders have been observed travelling hundreds of kilometers at altitudes of over 5,000 metres! Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada My first find of the day was this Wolf spider carrying a golf ball-shaped egg sac. Wolf spiders are one of the larger spiders in both national parks and are quite common in the area. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada The method for spider capture is simple. Step 1: Ascend to the top of the world and start turning over rocks. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada Step 2: Locate a spider of interest. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada Step 3: Prepare the aspirator. Similar to a siphon tube, it’s draped around the neck. To catch a specimen, simply inhale on one end to create a vacuum while positioning the other end over a passing spider. Luckily, there’s a filter inside to prevent accidentally swallowing your catch! Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada Step 4: Prepare the collection bottle. A quick exhalation on the tube sends the catch into strong alcohol which preserves the specimen. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada Top photo — Early in the day, and already a variety of specimens. Bottom photos — These guys made it look so easy … so I decided to try my hand at spider hunting. Jeff Bolingbroke photo courtesy of Parks Canada Top photos — Grab the rock…and flip! …and nothing. Bottom photos —I wasn’t having much luck, until… Jeff Bolingbroke photos courtesy of Parks Canada …I spied this male Running Crab spider living up to its name. I positioned my arm on the lichen-encrusted rock and watched as this speedy member of the Philodromidae family ran right up my arm. From there, he was an easy catch for Darren’s aspirator. Jeff Bolingbroke photos courtesy of Parks Canada Despite finding a number of species, Robb was happy to point out that spiders found in this area are harmless to humans (even if they look a little intimidating!). No Black Widows or Brown Recluses here! Jeff Bolingbroke photos courtesy of Parks Canada Once they’ve had a chance to examine this year’s collection, the research team will share its findings with Parks Canada. By learning more about which spiders live here and their role in the ecosystem, Parks Canada will be able to make decisions that ensure their long-term health. As a web specialist myself, I felt a certain kinship with the spiders and am excited to hear whether any new species were discovered. Jeff Bolingbroke photos courtesy of Parks Canada