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Creation 39(1):56, April 2017

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Mirror spider “like a disco ball”

God’s amazing creation is full of never-ending surprises



The eye-catching reflective patches on the abdomen of this Thwaitesia spider certainly make it one of the prettier arachnids. “Like a disco ball with lots of different mirrors” is how Queensland Museum spider expert Robert Whyte described it, speculating that the shimmery spots “scatter light and make it difficult for predators to see it.”1

Popularly known as ‘mirror spiders’ or ‘sequined spiders’, Thwaitesia species are relatively little studied as yet. However, in other better-researched spiders which have similar white or silver markings it is known that the causal pigment is guanine (which is also a component of DNA). Unlike the blue/green bilin pigments (e.g. of huntsman spiders) and the red-brown-gold-yellow-purple-black pigments (e.g. of redback spiders), guanine is not a ‘conventional’ pigment as it simply reflects light.

Guanine is a waste product that spiders store in nonhazardous anhydrous crystalline form in specialized cells called guanocytes, immediately beneath the spider’s transparent skin. The crystal form and arrangement determines colour—matt white or silver.2

“Guanine deposits in a spider’s integument are not there by chance and neither are they just the random deposition of unwanted guanine under the cuticle” wrote one spider expert, noting the consistency in placement and form across white/silver spider species.3 What’s more, ‘mirror’ patches are not static but can change in size—within a fraction of a second.

When disturbed—especially when a spider has to drop suddenly from its web—the reflective guanine markings suddenly contract4 or even “disappear more or less completely”.2 Thus the spider rapidly changes colour to something much drabber, more like the colour of its surrounds. It generally takes a few minutes to recover its ‘mirrors’ again. While “it is not clear how this impressive phenomenon works”, in one spider finely striated muscles have been found with guanocytes. Contraction of those muscles might be the cause of rapid diminution of the guanine patches, but this has “yet to be explored”.2

Indeed there is much about God’s amazing creation that is yet to be explored, with many more surprising creatures and their features awaiting man’s discovery and examination. How apt that the Psalmist wrote, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24).

References and notes

  1. Cudmore, B., How is a spider like a disco ball?, sciencefriday.com/articles/picture-of-the-week-sequined-spider, 8 September 2014. Return to text.
  2. Wunderlin, J., and Kropf, C., Rapid colour change in spiders, Chapter 26 of Nentwig, W. (Ed.), Spider Ecophysiology, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2013. Return to text.
  3. Atkinson, R., Spider hazards and defences, findaspider.org.au/info/hazards.htm, 15 February 2015. Return to text.
  4. The photographer of the Thwaitesia spider shown here, Nicky Bay, has also photographed the same spider after a disturbance, showing the contraction of the ‘mirrors’. sgmacro.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/transformation-of-mirror-spider.html. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

John M.
I can say what is on the minds of the authors because I have read their work. Much of what you included was the writing of Robert Whyte. If you read his award winning book, A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia, you will see he does not believe in intelligent design. If you read their research, you would know they don’t support intelligent design, along with the vast majority of scientists. [link deleted per feedback rules]
Tas Walker
You are correct that most scientists do not recognise intelligent design, but that is not because they are following the evidence. It is because they have a prior commitment to materialism. The quote by geneticist Professor Richard Lewontin on this prior commitment is significant here. Once that commitment is made a person will not acknowledge design no matter how much the evidence points toward it, or whether they have a plausible explanation or not. They just have an implicit belief that one day they will find a materialistic explanation. In the case of these spiders the evidence to design is strong. Pay attention to the evidence, not to the assertions of authority figures.
Leona R.
The scientists who produce the evidence understand that the evidence supports the evolution of spiders. If you were honest, you would write that the expert spider scientists do not accept your idea that God designed these creatures, but they understand that the evidence does support the theory of evolution.
Tas Walker
How can you say what is in the minds of the authors of those papers? They may believe in evolution, or they may believe in intelligent design. But they can't say in their paper that the evidence supports design or their paper would be rejected. Do you realise that you are basing your belief in the evolution of spiders on what you imagine the authors of those papers think. You would be better off to consider the evidence set out in the article and do some logical thinking on the question for yourself. Enjoy.
John M.
It is dishonest to plagiarize the text of atheist scientists to promote your message. The scientific researchers understand the evidence compiled over the past two centuries by scientists around the world supports the explanation for the spiders beauty is evolution through natural selection, not creation. I suggest you contact the author of the article and discuss it with him.
Tas Walker
You need to appreciate what the word "plagiarise" means: to take the work or an idea of (someone) and pass it off as one's own. The source of this information about the spider is documented in the References and notes. Thus, it is not being passed of as our own. What we have done is explain how this amazing evidence supports the idea that God designed these creatures. Keep reading and enjoying the articles on this website.
Jamil A.
One word to describe this spider and God's creation: stupendous!
Kristy S.
Michelle M.
Thankyou so much for this article, we serve an amazing GOD! I have learned so much from Creation Ministries International..It has caused me to dig even deeper into the wonders of GOD'S creation and to share with others.
Joy P.
I live in SE FL on 5 acres in the country. When I shine a flashlight out in the grass at night I see scores of tiny lights that look exactly like stars in the sky. When I investigate closer, I discover that the light I see is being reflected from the abdomens of tiny spiders about 3/8" inch in size. But here's the kicker, when I bring the flashlight close enough to the spider to see details up close, the light effect disappears and the spider appears to be just an ordinary black or dark brown in color. Certainly nothing as striking as the photo accompanying this article. Anyone have any idea what breed of spider I have? They are incredibly numerous. I would say I have easily 300+ visible on my property on any given night.
Philip R.
..."the shimmery spots scatter light and make it difficult for predators to see it.”

Makes me wonder why the military hasn't developed this phenomena God gave us so that they can improve their stealth technology!
John L.
It marvels me how some people can see this and still believe that everything came from a random explosion!

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