Maternal Arthropods: We should start by stating the features that distinguish the Arthropods from other animals.
Arthropods have: Exoskeletons (a skeleton on the outside of the body
Bodies that are divided into separate parts
Jointed legs and appendages
Bilateral symmetry (both sides of the body are the same).
The Arthropods make up over 90% of the animal kingdom.
Insects, Arachnids (spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites), crustaceans (crabs etc), centipedes and millipedes are all Arthropods.
They are considered to be “lower animals” but we suspect that Arthropods will outlast humans.
Most people, including some gardeners, have been conditioned to regard terrestrial Arthropods as the enemy that must be destroyed at all costs. We prefer to live and let live. Over the years we have realised that most Arthropods are either useful or benign (harmless). Very few are harmful in any way.
We have also noticed that many Arthropods have strong maternal instincts and will go to great lengths to protect and nurture eggs and juveniles.
Spiders are a good example. Female spiders will protect their eggs by encasing them in a silken sac. When the eggs hatch many spiders will carry the young around on their abdomens.
The photograph shows a small garden spider with what we thought was a bad case of arachnid acne. The spider’s abdomen was covered by lumps and bumps. Closer inspection revealed that the lumps and bumps were baby spiders that the mother was carrying around. Eventually the young spiders will leave mother and fend for themselves. Sorry about the quality of the photo. It has been magnified a number of times to emphasise the “lumps and bumps”.
Centipedes and scorpions also exhibit maternal instincts when it comes to protecting the next generation. We have observed both centipedes and scorpions sheltering under rocks with their bodies curled around egg masses or juveniles.
Female freshwater crayfish or yabbies carry eggs and young under their bodies. Water is passed across the eggs and young as the parent moves through the water.
We regard the Arthropods as a very interesting group of animals. We welcome them in our garden. The fact that many exhibit the same instincts as the so called “higher animals” makes them all the more interesting.
Life in the Undergrowth was a television series presented recently by David Attenborough on ABC Television. This series gives an outstanding insight into the lives of Arthropods and other “lower animals”.