Sunday, January 6, 2013

New book! Common Spiders of North America

A beautiful lime-colored Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans, keeps close watch over her spiderlings. Spiders are among our most abundant, ecologically important, and interesting groups of animals. I shot the above image in Georgia. You'll not see this species in Ohio, but if you travel south and bumble into one of these spiders, you'll surely wonder what it is.

This book will be a great help in identifying the Green Lynx Spider, and 468 other spider species that occur commonly in North America.

Common Spiders of North America, by Richard Bradley, with illustrations by Steve Buchanan. University of California Press, 271 pages.

Bradley is a professor at Ohio State University, and has made a serious study of the eight-legged crowd for several decades. In the course of his studies, he's examined untold thousands of specimens from all quarters of Ohio and beyond, and spent scores of hours afield studying the animals. His expertise shines through in Common Spiders. All 68 families of spiders are treated, and the author has done a masterful job of including the species that are most commonly encountered, and asked about. If you are a spider enthusiast, or even an arachnophobe who can handle seeing spiders in print, this book is for you. There is absolutely nothing like it.

The world of spiders is full of crazy and impossibly cool creatures. This is one of the "ant mimic" jumping spiders. It really, really resembles an ant - so much so that that's what most casual observers would dismiss the spider as, unless they looked closely. I photographed this one in Pennsylvania. The text of Common Spiders delves into the quirks and oddities of the spider world, such as this ant-jumper. The book is really a natural history treatment, in addition to being an identification guide. Introductory material does a great job of describing spiders in broad terms, then tightens down to a user-friendly key which should allow you to place your mystery spider into the appropriate group. The meat of the book is the spider accounts, which are arranged by family. Each family section has a well-crafted and succinct overview of the family, often spiced with interesting facts or trivia. Depending on the family and its diversity, there will be anywhere from one to many species accounts that follow the family description.
The illustrations are incredible, and worth the price of admission alone. Artfully rendered by Steve Buchanan, these paintings transform the book into an objet d' art. Just as the best (in my opinion) bird guides utilize illustrations because they can depict a perfect composite of the bird in question, Buchanan's illustrations allow us to see details that would be much harder to show with photographs. The above is one of the plates that shows jumping spiders. Symbols indicate male or female, and both sexes and sometimes even variations within a species are shown. There is nothing else available, insofar as I am aware, that shines such a clear, gorgeous light on spiders as do these illustrations.

Bradley singles out particularly fascinating spider families via inset boxes, and discusses their habits. The page above digs into the incredible Bolas Spiders, and brings out the almost unbelievable hunting techniques employed by the female spiders. It is these profile boxes, in part, that transform the book into a natural history treatment in addition to an ID guide. I'm glad that Bradley regularly detours down more detailed side roads so that we can learn more about the fascinating behavior of spiders. All too many guides stop abruptly at the pertinent identification field marks, and those of us with the desire to know more about the animal are left hanging.

Common Spiders of North America is not a field guide. It's a 7" x 10" hardbound book with a fair bit of heft to it. You'll not be slipping it into your back pocket. That's probably not an issue, though - with the proliferation of digital cameras and cameras imbedded in smart phones, most would-be users can just snap a photo of a mystery spider, and consult the book later.

You'll also have to dig rather deeply into your wallet to make a copy of Common Spiders your own. It lists for $60.00, definitely at the high end of the monetary spectrum for such fare. Parting with a half-dozen tenspots is really a small price to pay for such a novel book, though, and I highly recommend it. My copy is in hand, and I've enjoyed paging through it. And I really can't wait until warm weather returns scores of spiders to the landscape, and I can better put Common Spiders of North America through its paces.


Hal Mann said...

Hey Jim, Thanks for letting us know about this book. Sounds like it is well worth the sheckels. Looking forward to hearing Richard Bradley speak at the Oak Openings Research Forum toward the end of the month. - Hal

jaredmizanin said...

Thanks for the review, Jim. Awesome sample plate. I hope to have this on my shelf by the time spider season picks up.