Scientists in Schools

Arachnid adventures

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  • Mason Scholes, Maningrida Community Education Centre, Maningrida, NT
  • Dr Robert Raven, Terrestrial Biodiversity Research, Queensland Museum
Rantoon hold the spider while Mason and Robert look on

When Mason approached Robert to identify spiders collected by his students, little did he know they would discover 25 new species of spiders as well as perhaps the largest population of tarantulas in the world. Their discovery of a tarantula species unique to the Northern Territory will have a long term benefit to the whole Maningrida community.

The (as yet undescribed formally) species of tarantula, Selenotholus kidjikarrabba, was identified thanks to their partnership with Robert. Successive groups of students have continued to study the spider, with investigations revealing the spider's ability to survive the wet season by living under water in its burrow.Mason and Robert have successfully worked together to develop the project despite the 3600km that separates them. "Mason understood the hypothesis testing paradigm: make an hypothesis and try to falsify it. All I had to do was put my shoulder to the wheel Mason had already started turning," Robert explains.

Robert has been able to visit the students annually, working with them on the floodplain that is their science laboratory.
In addition to learning about the relevance of science in their local community, students have developed many skills including conducting 'emu walks' for the population count and delivering presentations on their discoveries at the conference of the Science Teachers Association of the Northern Territory in 2010.
So what's next? The students are in the process of setting up a new enterprise to breed the tarantulas to sell, a project from which the entire community will benefit.

Recording data
"Things are running so well because the students are so engaged with what's happening with the spiders," said Mason. As the partnership progresses, more of these Indigenous students are opening their eyes to the possibility of a career in science all through the support of a scientist and the belief of a teacher.