>Hawaii’s endangered happy-face spider: nananana makaki‘i

Story and illustration by Elise Takaesu

Navy Region Hawaii

Public Affairs

(Editor ‘s note: Each month, Ho’okele will feature native Hawaiian animals and plants as the banner in the community calendar section in addition to a Hawaii-ana column explaining the origins and history. Elise Takaesu, a recent University of Hawaii graduate, is a temporary staff member for Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs assisting with graphic design and editorial content.)

The happy-face spider is an endangered endemic native species found only in the Hawaiian rainforest on the islands of Oahu, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Its Hawaiian name is nananana makaki‘i, meaning face-patterned spider. The spider got its name due to its appearance resembling a smiley face pattern on its abdomen. The reason for the smiley face pattern on its abdomen is unknown, but is theorized to confuse predators to give it a few seconds to escape. “nananana” means spider and “makaki‘i” means mask/image.

With reference to its long and spin-dly legs, its scientific name is “Theridion Grallator” which means “stilt walker” in Latin. They are completely harmless to humans, super tiny at only 5 millimeters (0.20 in) long and are non-venomous. They make small flimsy webs under leaves of both native and non-native plants to catch prey. These nocturnal species hunt at night when there are no predators.

Parental care is rare for spiders, but Hawaiian happy-face spiders are a notable exception.

Mother spiders will guard her eggs until they hatch and then catch prey to feed her young. Individual spiders have a unique pattern, and not all individuals have the “happy-face” morph.

According to University of California-Berkeley’s resource library “Understanding Evolution,” two-thirds of the spiders are the plain yellow morph and the remaining one-third are all other patterns. Faces or lack of seems to be genetically linked, though inheritance differs according to separation. (Spiders on Maui inherit different patterns than spiders on Hawaii).

Did you know that the Pokemon Spinarak is based on the happy-face spider?

To learn more about the nananana makaki’i, visit http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/good-bad/spider.html.

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Category: News