Page 3 of 4 | 2005 Interview by Michael Jacobi
MJ: Many of the tarantulas that you have successfully bred have yet to be described and are known by temporary names. For example, the Selenotypus sp. "Glenelva" that you detailed in the last issue of ARACHNOCULTURE. Can you give us a brief update on the status of Dr. Raven's work in this area? Are there other arachnologists working on this material?
SN: Being as thorough as Dr. Raven is, the more diversity he uncovers, the more information gets databased, the larger the work gets. He's promised us a revision of all the Australian material. New material is constantly coming to light that raises new questions that must be answered. So while he continues to crunch numbers, the work becomes larger and larger. We are all very keen to see this new research, but there's never enough time and a lot of variational material still needs to be logged and Dr. Raven is still very busy compiling. I think it will be at least a few months more until we see the finished product. Dr. Barbara Baehr is working with Raven on several of the projects inVolved with the tarantulas. So is Dr. Tracey Churchill in the Northern Territory, who has looked at stridulating organs of our tarantulas in great depth. Several amateur arachnologists such as myself have contributed as much as we can and are willing to assist further if needed. So while Rob Raven is at the helm, there are many folk inVolved, assisting where we can.
MJ:Without getting too technical, can you share the unique features of the theraphosid genera native to Australia and their relation to tarantulas found elsewhere?
SN: Australian tarantulas have been commonly called "whistling spiders" or "barking spiders" and with good reason. The stridulating organs found on many Australian tarantulas are large and strong, providing quite a sound when provoked. The organs themselves are very similar to many of the South East Asian tarantulas, in fact all of the subfamily Selenocosmiinae are known for a similar stridulating arrangement. Very few of those however possess such a large and strong arrangement as seen in the Australian tarantulas. While some of our northern fauna share close affinities to other southeast Asian theraphosids, several genera here are endemic to Australia. Of those, perhaps the Selenotypus are the most adapted to the extremely dry and hot regions of Australia and are unique among other members of their subfamily. Many of these arid region spiders have adapted to desert lifestyles easily, coping quite well in what would seem impossible terrain to do so! I do not believe any of the Selenocosmiinae live in as tough a climate as the Selenotypus, they are very long lived and have adapted several interesting modes of behaviour to suit. Very unique and highly adapted tarantulas, they are a totally fascinating group.
MJ: Let's switch gears here... What do you do when you are not playing with spiders?!?
SN: I read a lot—I feel naked without a good book by my side. I read anything and everything. I don't really have a favourite genre. Photography draws me in too, now more then ever. I've been offered a chance to get inVolved in some professional photography, so that has me fairly excited at the moment. Of course, my other hobby is systematics and cladistics, but that tends to go back to spiders!
MJ: So, how did become interested in arachnids and become, not only interested in tarantula husbandry and breeding, but systematics and phylogeny as well?
SN: I've always been interested in arachnids, as a child I would collect them, among all sorts of other creepy crawlies. My mother had to check my pockets by the age of 3, she'd always find something scary in them, always moving and always a new friend. My parents were heavily inVolved in native animal rescue and were members of the state's wildlife protection society. As a result I grew up caring for any number of interesting native animals, from bats and birds to snakes, lizards, gliders, etc. The keeping of tarantulas seemed a natural progression eventually. I think my early years contributed heavily to what I do today.
In the early days of tarantula keeping, I quickly found out how difficult it was to get any information on the animals I kept, as a result I turned to the scientific works available, much of which seemed like another language to me. So, to understand those works I went deeper, to find out the terminology and what it meant, purely so I could understand information in the papers I had obtained. I had friends who were biologists who helped a lot and, of course, visits to my local arachnologist, Dr. Robert Raven, who always left me with more questions. Rob explained very well a lot of information to me, gave me several copies of his systematic work on mygalomorphs and I buried my head in scientific literature from that point on. I'm still going. About eight years ago I hunted down another well known arachnologist in Queensland, Doug Wallace, who had formed the Rockhampton Arachnological Society many years ago. Doug had endless publications at his place and was more than eager to share them. These guys were my initial mentors, so I think that had a huge impact on why I get quite inVolved in the classification and ecology of these animals.