What is hairy, has eight legs, and breathes underwater?
Tarantulas may be regarded as ugly and formidable spiders, but to students from Maningrida Community College they are the focus of an ongoing investigation into their biology.
The Top End burrowing arachnid, known as the Maningrida diving tarantula , lives in huge numbers on a floodplain near the community, and was revealed to Western science 10 years ago by students from the college.
The fascinating water master can swim, and by coating itself with air bubbles it can breathe when diving underwater.
Maningrida Community College teacher, Robert Schonherr, said years 10 to 12 students are investigating the spider’s habitat and biology, learning how to collect them, and examining abiotic influences, such as water and soil quality.
“We hope to begin the project by collecting four female spiders, and the students will experiment to determine the best food types, and practice husbandry techniques to ensure the spiders survive and thrive,” he said.
“They will consider the best size and type of enclosure, the tarantulas’ substrate, water and food needs, how and when to clean their habitat, and how to handle them.
“We intend breeding the spiders and selling them to the pet and pharmaceutical industry , but we need to know if introducing a male is sufficient, or whether other factors are involved in their reproduction.”
The school began studying spiders in 2004, and over the years has identified 46 new species, of which the diving tarantula is the most significant.
The arachnological project is a Learning on Country partnership with local Djelk rangers, and principal Daryll Kinnane said: “Working in the field with the rangers provides students with insights into the rangers’ duties, an understanding of the importance and scope of their work, and the potential for career development as one of these custodians of the environment.”