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The world’s oldest spider has died aged 43, but not before teaching humans lessons for life

Donna Coutts, April 30, 2018 7:17PM Kids News

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Trapdoor spiders live in a burrow. Picture: Parks Australia media_cameraTrapdoor spiders live in a burrow. Picture: Parks Australia

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The world’s oldest spider has died, aged 43.

The female Australian trapdoor spider, called Number 16, outlived the previous* record holder by 15 years.

Scientists believe Number 16 and other trapdoors are able to live a long time because of how and where they live and how their bodies work.

It could also teach us important lessons about how to live sustainably*.

Number 16 lived in the Central Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. It was a Giaus Villosus, a type of trapdoor.

The next oldest spider was a 28-year-old tarantula found in Mexico.

The world's oldest known spider, which died aged 43, was monitored for years during a long-term population study in Perth. Picture: AFP
media_cameraThe world’s oldest known spider, which died aged 43, was monitored for years during a long-term population study in Perth. Picture: AFP

Trapdoors live in uncleared, native bushland in a burrow with a trapdoor over the entrance to camouflage* it, making it difficult for predators* to know they are there. Baby spiders stay in the mother’s burrow for many months. The young females then make their own burrows and rarely* leave them.

Trapdoor spiders’ bodies work much more slowly than other similarly sized creatures. Spider experts believe staying close to home and their slow metabolism* means they live longer than adventurous creatures with faster metabolisms.

Their low-energy-use strategy* allows them to survive harsh*, dry environments.

Number 16 died in October last year after an attack by a wasp, but her record-breaking long life has just been announced by scientists in an article published in Pacific Conservation Biology Journal.

She was born in 1974 at the beginning of a long-term study into trapdoor spiders. The study was begun at the University of Western Australia by biologist* and spider expert Barbara York Main, now 88.

Another spider expert, Leanda Mason from Curtin University, said Number 16’s long life had helped the scientists learn a lot about trapdoor spiders.

Dr Mike Gray, arachnologist, with a tarantula from Mexico, at Australian Museum's exhibition. Picture: supplied
media_cameraDr Mike Gray, arachnologist, with a tarantula from Mexico, at Australian Museum’s exhibition. Picture: supplied

“To our knowledge this is the oldest spider ever recorded, and her significant* life has allowed us to further investigate the trapdoor spider’s behaviour and population dynamics*,” Ms Mason said.

“Through Barbara’s detailed research, we were able to determine* that the extensive* life span of the trapdoor spider is due to their life-history traits*, including how they live in uncleared, native bushland, their sedentary* nature and low metabolisms,” Ms Mason said.

The scientists believe the long and settled life of Number 16 could “provide lessons for humanity*” on how to live sustainably.

GLOSSARY

  • previous: the one before
  • sustainably: in a way that can go on forever
  • camouflage: hide it in the things or environment around it
  • predators: animals that eat it
  • rarely: not very often
  • metabolism: the processes that happen in a living thing that help it keep living
  • strategy: plan
  • harsh: difficult
  • biologist: scientist who studies living things
  • significant: important
  • dynamics: the things that make make in a system or a group
  • determine: find out
  • extensive: big or long
  • traits: the features that makes something how it is, such as its genes
  • sedentary: not moving much
  • humanity: human beings

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Mind Map
Complete a mind map on the Australian Trapdoor spider species using all the information contained in the Kids News article.

Extension
State the reasons why Trapdoor spiders seem to live longer than other species of spiders.

Time: Allow 20 minutes
Curriculum links: English, Science

2. Spider Play
Work in a group of three to write a puppet play with characters being different species of spiders. In your script, include some facts about your species of spiders and how they live. Make a puppet of your spider, give them names and perform your puppet play to the class or maybe a junior class in your school.

Extension
“The scientists believe the long and settled life of Number 16 could “provide lessons for humanity” on how to live sustainably.”

What do you think this quote from the article means?

Time: Allow 45 minutes
Curriculum links: Drama, English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?

IN ONE SENTENCE, TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THIS STORY
Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

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