The Edmond Sun


March 9, 2013

Trapdoor spider ‘barackobamai’ survives by stealth, ambush

EDMOND — According to the March 9 issue of “Science News,” our president has another honor — this time from the scientific community. Dr. Jason Bond, director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, unveiled a hitherto unclassified species of trapdoor spider. This new spider has been dubbed Aptostichus (not pronounced “apt to stick us”) barackobamai. Before we take a closer look at this newly discovered master of stealth and deception, let’s review what we know about trapdoor spiders.

Their name springs from the ingenious trapdoor they construct to camouflage their hiding place as they lie in wait for their prey. This cleverly designed mechanism snaps open when the unwary victim blunders into the spider’s “kill zone.”

The spider constructs the trap using innocent appearing material — soil, leaves, grass, bits of bark — leaving the victim totally unaware that this normal appearing setting is, in fact, the scene of a lethal ambush.

The unfortunate prey has no easily discernible warning. The magnitude of the danger is unrealized until the trap springs and there is no chance of escape.

This deceptive predator survives and thrives because the nature of the danger it constructs from innocuous environmental material is hard to detect and can’t easily be observed until it’s too late.

Trapdoor spiders are very patient. Their elaborate traps are planned well in advance. They use thin strands of spider silk to construct a system of “trip lines” surrounding their lair. When the unsuspecting victim touches one of these lines, the waiting spider is alerted and the ambush is set. The spider uses its claws to hold the trap’s underside in place as the doomed prey draws near. When the spider senses the victim is within reach, the trapdoor flies open, the spider springs out and the victim is drawn, struggling, into the subterranean lair where the spider will feed at leisure.

Obviously, if the spider is clearly observed and the true nature of the danger is appreciated, the trap will never work. The trapdoor spider can succeed only to the degree its victims can’t see and don’t know what it’s up to. Consequently, the spider works mostly underground and mostly under cover of darkness. Thus, employing craft and stealth, the lethal work of the trapdoor spider is rarely seen and the trap’s construction and purpose is successfully concealed.

Scientists have long suspected there are many more trapdoor spiders than we know but they remain undetected because of their naturally secretive habits. This, of course, explains why the Aptostichus barackobamai has remained under the scientific radar all these years.

This new species, the largest trapdoor spider ever catalogued, wasn’t uncovered in some remote, inaccessible jungle or desert area. This spider was found right here in the United States, living unobserved among the human population of the American Southwest. The spiders have been laying traps and seizing prey beneath our feet for eons and, due to their craft and stealth, we knew nothing about them.

Some nonscientists have posed this question: Now that the existence of this new species is uncovered, now that we know where they are and what they’re up to, will there be any change in their behavior? So far, there is no official scientific answer. However, my suspicion, based on past behavior of trapdoor spiders is that nothing will change. The Aptostichus barackobamai will continue to lay cleverly concealed trip lines, construct undetected traps, lurk unseen in its subterranean lair and, protected by the dark, it will continue to seize unsuspecting prey as it has for generations.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not one of those squeamish types that have a natural aversion to spiders. In fact, I admire them for their efficient design, their diversity, their evolutionary staying power. And, to give the devil his due, I’m quite impressed that this particular spider has managed to carry out his activities right under our noses without detection.

Just the same, I’d really rather not have spiders — trapdoor or otherwise — crawling around in my business. I’m a “live-and-let-live” sort of guy. Consequently, it would be unfair to be overly critical of Aptostichus barackobamai. He’s never pretended to be anything but a master of craft and disguise. He really cannot help it that he is designed by nature to live by stealth and ambush.

So what is the most important lesson we can draw from this recent discovery? Obviously, we have underestimated the skill of these trapdoor spiders when it comes to pursuing their goals undetected right under our feet. There’s really no telling what we may learn about them now that we know they’re among us. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.

Text Only
  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
    The event is based on the “Running of the Bulls” that occurs in Pamplona, Spain, that is  part of an annual occurrence in which a group of bulls rampage through the streets of Pamplona while men run from them to avoid being gored by their sharp horns. That event was introduced to the English-speaking world by Ernest Hemingway, who included scenes from it in his critically acclaimed 1926 novel “The Sun also Rises.”

    July 22, 2014

  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014

  • Holding government accountable for open meeting violations

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the recent success of three important government transparency proposals which will go into law this year.

    July 21, 2014

  • GUEST OPINION — Oklahoma GOP voters want educational choices

    A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.

    July 21, 2014

  • HEY HINK: IRS interferes with citizens’ rights of free speech

    The patient is gravely ill. We have detected traces of a deadly venom in the bloodstream. We don’t know how widespread the poison is, but we know, if not counteracted, toxins of this kind can rot the patient’s vital organs and could ultimately prove fatal.

    July 19, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • RedBlueAmerica: What should the U.S. do about illegal immigrant children?

    The crisis along the southern U.S. border has politicians and immigration officials scrambling. More than 52,000 children, mostly from Central American nations, have arrived so far this year. The Department of Homeland Security is running out of space to hold them all.
    President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion in borrowed money from taxpayers to cover the growing “care, feeding and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups” when our own veterans are not taken care of. Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the president’s plan, saying more money should go toward securing the border.

    July 17, 2014

  • VA scandal highlights the need to change Pentagon spending priorities

    The ongoing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal raises an important question: When our veterans are being denied access to basic health care, why is the Pentagon squandering billions of dollars on programs that do not benefit our military forces? Is there a link in organization attitudes?

    July 16, 2014

  • For better politics, it’s time for some raging moderates

    Like more than 20 percent of my fellow Californians, I am now classified as a no-party-preference voter, registered to vote but with no affiliation to any of the state’s political parties.
    I am for lower taxes and for marriage equality. I am tough on crime and I am anti-abortion. I believe that a pathway to citizenship is a necessary part of immigration reform and that student test scores should be a critical component of teacher evaluations.

    July 15, 2014

  • Father on mission to stop gun violence

    Since his son died six weeks ago as collateral damage to a troubled young man’s wish for vengeance, Richard Martinez has been asked whom he holds responsible.
    “I’m responsible,” the California lawyer answers, referring to most Americans’ failure to push harder to change gun laws after earlier mass shootings. “All those kids died and none of us did anything.”

    July 14, 2014


If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
     View Results