In a tropical forest, many of the distinct habitats for spiders occur above the ground, on the living leaves, branches, vines, and mosses. This three dimensional world is difficult to search. If our sought spider is hidden by a leaf or branch, how do we find it?
One method is to "smoke" them out by creating an insecticide fog that kills the spiders, which then fall on sheets waiting below. The advantage of this method is that it can get spiders from the canopy of the trees, far above. Fogging has been invaluable in learning about the biodiversity of the canopy. But, it takes heavy equipment, there is residue, and the spiders are killed, so I can't take photos of them alive.
Our method for getting spiders out of vegetation is small scale and terrestrial. We take a sheet stretched by tent poles and place it beneath vegetation. Then (and I beg the forgiveness of my botanist friends), we shake the vegetation, or beat it with a stick. The spiders are shaken off and fall onto the sheet, and are usually easy to see and catch there.
Our beating sheets and beating sticks are treasured pieces of equipment. Indeed, when I find a stick of the right strength and weight, I keep it for decades. If you want to see me demonstrating the method, check out the video of me hyperventilating after I found an especially great spider in Ecuador in 2010. And, here is a photo of Alex beating a small tree:
The spider photographed here is a rather fearsome looking Bathippus that we found in the vegetation here at Mulu. Males of this species have enormous jaws, not to eat better, but rather to outcompete other males for females:
Previously in this series:
Text and images © W. Maddison, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license (CC-BY)