Fieldwork is the fun, hard and dirty part of an arachnologist’s job. However, have you ever wondered what happens to the spiders once they are collected? As part of the Karoo BioGap project, all spiders collected are deposited into the National Collection of Arachnida (NCA) that is housed in the Biosystematics building at the Agricultural Research Council.
Background of the collection
The National Collection of Arachnida (non-Acari) was established in 1976, the under Plant Protection Research Institute, which later became the Agricultural Research Council. It was established by Dr Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman and is a comprehensive and fast growing collection in South Africa. It contains 70,200 accessions represented by approximately 210,600 alcohol-preserved specimens. Sampling of spiders has focused mainly on South Africa.
The NCA is one of South Africa’s Agricultural National Public Assets and it is maintained on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The collection contains a wealth of information, ranging from taxonomic names, biological and biogeographical information.
Process of accessioning a specimen
A specimen collected in the field follows a set procedure before it is included in the NCA. These steps are as follows:
1. Specimens are sorted and placed into a glass container suitable for the collection.
2. Specimen is identified to include order, family, genus and species name, where possible.
3. Specimen information is written into a catalogue and given a unique accession number.
4. Correct locality and identification labels, including accession number, are generated.
5. Specimen and all associated data is captured into the NCA database.
6. Specimen is stored in the collection.
The people behind the scene at NCA
The growth and upkeep of the collection is always ongoing. The National Collection of Arachnida is lucky to have a small team that helps in this task.
Ezekia Sgudhla (left), Joel Mooka (middle) and Sma Chiloane (right) help with different aspects of accessioning a specimen. Responsibilities include basic sorting, label generation and identification to family level.
Petro Marais (left), the collection manager of the National Collection of Arachnida, and Maggie Menyatso (right) who is responsible for databasing accessioned specimens.