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Hannah Rosenberg

February 3, 2020

Embracing our Eight-Legged Friends: Arachnophilia Displayed at Mann Library

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While spiders are mostly harmless, many people scream, run away or stomp on them at first sight. Thus the vast biodiversity of arachnids is often overlooked due to their frightening appearance.

From Oc. 24 to Jan. 31, the exhibit “Arachnophilia: A Passion for Spiders” was on display at Mann Library. Prof. Linda Rayor, entomology, and Jenny Leijonhufvud, the gallery and outreach spaces coordinator of Mann Library, worked together to display a variety of spiders — both unique and mundane — in great detail through photos, videos and display cases.

The exhibit, which was at the Mann Gallery of the library’s second floor, had detailed visuals and descriptions of many different spider species, such as the Metallic Emerald Jumping Spider and the Spiny Bellied Orb Weaver.

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Although spiders are not generally social creatures, Rayor’s research focuses on their social behavior. This research inspired her to bring a spider exhibit to Cornell.

“Most of my research is focused on social spiders, and only a tiny, tiny proportion of spiders live in groups at all,” Rayor said. “Less than one and a half percent of the 48,000 spider [species] are social.”

According to Rayor, spiders are a large, diverse group of arachnids but they are often homogenized as something to be feared. Rather, arachnids are a subgroup of arthropods, which are a dominant group of life on Earth. Rayor said that having eight legs and pedipalps- which are two appendages in the front of their head- are features that all arachnids share.

Plans for the exhibit began to brew in 2017, when Rayor was a consultant for an international traveling exhibit based on North American spiders in Sydney, Australia.

“I ended up getting a grant from the Australian Museum for my Cornell students and I to help prepare North American spiders for their displays,” Rayor said. “We learned how to dry spiders out and stuff them, and make them look as life-like as we possibly could.”

Along with preparing the spiders, Rayor also designed cages for them to be displayed in.

Despite her expertise in entomology, Rayor said the artistic input she gained from her collaborators, freelance photographer Simon Wheeler was invaluable. Wheeler took macro shots — making the small objects of the exhibit look larger — of Rayor’s work, which allowed Rayor to present the photography of the spiders in a captivating way.

One of Rayor’s favorite parts about the exhibit was having the ability to share her passion with others.

“I am terrifically pleased by how the exhibit turned out,” Rayor said. “My goal was to combine my passion for spiders, show how beautiful and diverse they are, and provide compelling information about their biology.”

This article has been updated to clarify Wheeler’s employment status. Wheeler is a freelance photographer,  who is not affiliated with the University.