#CreatureFeature – Austracantha minax (Christmas Spider)

Christmas Spiders were given their name as in some parts of Australia, they come out mostly during the summer months. They are also known as “jewel spiders” due to their colouration.

Christmas spiders have eight eyes arranged in two rows. They reach a maximum body length of only around 12 mm for females, and 5 mm for males. They are easily identified by the distinctive spikes of their abdomen. They are mostly glossy black, with spots of white, yellow, and orange patterns.

Their diet consists of small flying insects that get entangled in their webs. Christmas spiders are harmless to humans, though the web can be a nuisance for hikers and bushwalkers.

Jewel spiders are endemic to Australia. They can be found throughout the Mailands, as well as surrounding islands, including Tasmania, Barrow Island, and the Montebello Islands.

The Legend of the Christmas Spider is an Eastern European folktale that explains one possible origin for tinsel on Christmas trees. In Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, finding a spider or a spider web on a Christmas tree is considered good luck!

So, what’s the story?

A poor but hard-working widow once lived in a small hut with her children. One summer day, a pinecone fell on the earthen floor of the hut and took root. The widow’s children cared for the tree, excited at the prospect of having a Christmas tree by winter. The tree grew, but when Christmas Eve arrived, they could not afford to decorate it. The children sadly went to bed and fell asleep. Early the next morning, they woke up and saw the tree covered with cobwebs. When they opened the windows, the first ray of sunlight touched the webs and turned them into gold and silver. The widow and her children were overjoyed.  From then on, they never lived in poverty again.

Image source: https://www.natureaustralia.org.au/what-we-do/our-priorities/wildlife/wildlife-stories/12-aussie-christmas-crackers-of-nature/

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend_of_the_Christmas_Spider | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austracantha

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