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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Why Is That Spider Dancing? by Simon Pollard and Phil Sirvid

This children’s book, with its catchy title, is filled with stories about the amazing arachnids of Aotearoa. It was written by scientists Simon Pollard and Phil Sirvid. Arachnids are spiders, but also include harvestmen, false scorpions, mites, and ticks. Unlike insects they have eight legs.

Simon Pollard loves spiders! Over a decade he allowed thirty grey house spiders to build their webs on two of his windows which made it look like a haunted house!

But the authors acknowledge that most people see arachnids as threats to be squashed or sprayed. They hope their book will dispel those fears, and that once people learn about arachnids’ incredible lives they will come to respect and perhaps even to like them.

Ninety-five percent of arachnids that live in Aotearoa are only found here, so you could say they are just as iconic as our kiwi and tuatara. And they play a vital part in the planet’s ecosystem ‘Without them we would very quickly be knee-deep in insects’ they write.

A distinctive feature of this book are the many highly magnified photographs. These include a female garden wolf spider (carrying a backpack filled with about one hundred babies, all hanging on by just a silk thread), a tunnel web spider looking like a mini-tarantula and a female water spider sucking out the insides of its prey.

Why Is That Spider Dancing? is divided into three parts. Part One: Who Are Aotearoa’s Amazing Arachnids? covers how dexterously they build their webs and hunt their prey, eat, and digest their food, and reproduce and care for their young.

Part Two: Where Do Our Arachnids Live? is all about where they live in Aotearoa and how well they have adapted to many different habitats including caves, forests, and coastlines.

A good place to start looking for them, they suggest, is in our own homes and backyards. Outside, during the day we will most likely see only their webs as, with a few exceptions, such as the garden wolf spider which dashes around our gardens in broad daylight, their builders are usually hiding from predators.

So, it is best to go looking for them after dark with a torch. If you are lucky, you might come across some incredible jumping spiders who can jump up to fifty times their own body length, which is the same as a human jumping the length of a rugby field.

In Part Three: How do we Study and Care for our Arachnids? we learn that our National Museum, Te Papa, is home to thousands of specimens of arachnids, mostly from Aotearoa, which scientists from here and all over the world use to help them to understand more about these amazing creatures, including finding new species.

Phil Sirvid has looked after this collection for nearly thirty years and Dr Simon Pollard has studied spiders in many countries but of all the jungles he has been in his favourite place to watch spiders is still his own backyard.

I think these two experts have done an incredible job of bringing the fascinating world of Arachnids alive for junior readers in this fun and fact filled book. And it would also be an excellent resource for nature loving families to read together before going off on a spider hunt.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Te Papa Press


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