Main photograph: Golden wheel spider. Photo ©Joh Henschel. Essay photos and text by Joh Henschel.
Desert spiders and their kin – hidden but not forgotten
Few people know that the animals protected in the more than 100-year-old Namib-Naukluft Park include a fascinating array of spiders and other arachnids. When you look at them closely, some are rather attractive, such as the tiny jumping spiders which look like ‘eyes with legs’, no doubt inspiring the producers of the popular animation Monsters Inc.
Crab spiders like to associate with flowers. “Come into my beautiful parlour,” says the spider to the bee, but beware the bee that follows up on this invitation.
Golden-coloured Namib wheel spiders perform impressive dances on the dunes. This does not deter the spider-hunting wasp. To escape, the spider curls up into a wheel and hurtles down the slope at speed, spinning at 20 revolutions per second. But its problems are not over: at the bottom of the slope waits the agile-handed Palipmanus spider, another specialised hunter of wheel spiders. What to do? Digging a burrow into the safety of the sand is its best bet.
This is just as well, because at night, the big scorpions venture out. They are all but invisible, but not in the beam of a UV light, which makes them glow wonderfully. The sun spider avoids scorpions and other nocturnal predators by venturing out by day, and digging into the sand when it needs to shelter again, hence its name solifugid, to hide from the sun.
A cute hairy solifugid takes this to the extreme, spending its life swimming through the sand. Many secrets lives are lived in the sand. Some are only rarely revealed, such as red velvet mites that come onto the surface only after rain.
Spending time in the Namib and looking closely at its small creatures is well worth the effort, and there are plenty of surprises. These denizens are far older than the park, but have enjoyed its protection for a century. May the new century bode well for them.
More about Joh:
“Love at first sight and never a dull moment since,” is how Joh Henschel describes his deep more than 3 decades involvement with the Namib Desert. Joh is an ecologist, conducting research, envieronmental assessments and hobby photography in Namibia and abroad. With an early background in marine biology, he has exensive experience in many terrestrial environments especially deserts. He has published extensively, both scientific and popular environmental articles. Joh is a regular contributor to Travel News Namibia, where his regular series Toktok Talkie is published.
Photography expresses his deep passion for the Namib with its many nuances. Spiders count among his favourites.
Flamingo July 2008