From the Archive AND Science Wednesday: “Like a Monster from a Lost World”

by Jane Hansen, Research Assistant, Local History Archive, Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive, and Katie Bowell, Curator of Interpretation

Recently, Local History Archive Research Assistant extraordinaire Jayne Hansen came across this fantastic (and highly editorialized) article from a September 1935 edition of a Fort Collins newspaper:

The big question: What kind of spider did Duane Wetzler find?

There are a few options. In such a sensational case as this, some sort of extraterrestrial creepy crawly is always a possibility, but we can probably rule out an alien-arachnid in this case. Why? Most spiders from space have at least five “evil pair of jaws.” Let’s look at the spider species a little closer to home.

When trying to identify Fort Collins spiders, CSU’s Extension resource “Spiders in the Home” is a great first stop. However, since it was written in 2008, I can understand why it wasn’t used as an original reference. Looking through “Spiders in the Home,” an obvious candidate for Weltzer’s spider of terror emerges: The “Catface” Spider.

Araneus gemmoides

All the clues are there.

  • Diamond-shaped body? Check!
  • Long, furry legs? Check!
  • “Cat’s face” markings on the back (abdomen)? Check!
  • Evil pair of jaws? Well, we won’t call them evil, but…Check!
  • Broad as the diameter of a five cent piece? Since female Catface spiders can be over 1/4″ in diameter, Check!

While perhaps not the prettiest of spiders (Katie’s vote for that category goes to the Mabel Orchard Spider), the catface spider (Araneus gemmoides) is harmless and not nearly the “monster from a lost world” the newspaper post made it out to be.

But you have to wonder, what do you think the paper would have written about the tarantulas that live in the southern part of the state?

Let’s stick with the catface spiders, shall we?

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