Dr Leanda was first-author on a paper called ‘The longest-lived spider: mygalomorphs dig deep, and persevere‘ published as open-access in Pacific Conservation Biology. The long term study was initiated by Dr Leanda’s beloved mentor Prof Barbara York Main in 1974. The paper gained global interest, and shed light on the burrowing trapdoor spider called #16, who lived until she was 43 years old.
Prof Barbara monitored the burrows of the trapdoor spider species Gaius villosus for forty years, using number metal pegs to keep track – with #16 being the sixteenth spider she pegged in her initial survey. She gathered invaluable data on the life history, biology and ecology of this trapdoor spider species during her ground-breaking study. It was not until the last ten years of the study that Dr Leanda happened upon the scene, meeting Prof Barbara during her undergraduate days at University of Western Australia. Prof Barbara immediately fostered Dr Leanda’s enthusiasm in trapdoor spiders by taking her on fieldtrips and loaning out her huge collection of papers and books for Dr Leanda to read. Happily burying herself in the literature and fully digging the fieldwork, Dr Leanda worked closely with the Lady of the Spiders until her official retirement in 2017.
Prof Barbara last visited her long term study site in 2015 and bequeathed the monitoring on to Dr Leanda.
With an exceptional career that far outreaches the oldest spider story, Prof Barbara has been honoured with Medal of the Order of Australia in January 2011 for “service to science and conservation as a researcher and educator in the field of arachnology, and to the community of Western Australia” and the Medal of the Royal Society of Western Australia – the first woman to win it since the award began in 1924.
One of the most touching stories about the world’s oldest spider was written by Avi Selk from The Washington Post called ‘The extraordinary life and death of the world’s oldest known spider‘. His story has been credited as one of the best by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, and was interviewed as a result. Dr Leanda enjoyed speaking with him on the phone, and was extremely impressed by his work.
On 14th of May, 2019, Barbara passed away peacefully and surrounded by her family. A beautifully written article and podcast by ABC Science’s Dr Ann Jones celebrates her life.
Please feel free to contact Dr Leanda in regards to the world’s oldest recorded spider if you have any questions.
Below is a poem Dr Leanda wrote for her mentor.
Owed to Barbara
Over time and career we learn and we teach
Share knowledge and wisdom with those we can reach
From formal instruction in methods and fact
To personal doctrines that shape how we act
Sometimes we’re lucky and we will be blessed
With a capable mentor who inspires our best
Respected and learned in their field or skill
We follow direction, a vessel to fill
Barbara York Main was a lady I followed
Down paths she has cleared, into niches she’s hollowed
In hindsight it’s taken me years just to process
The foresight that Barbara invoked toward progress
A woman of science, a pioneer true
Earned on her own merit and helped herself through
Hostile environments inside and out,
Endured for pure research, not standing or clout
Though humble, reclusive and hidden from sight
Her books and her papers would shed quite a light
On my personal interest to study her spider
I soon had a goal, and sat down beside her
Her patience, wisdom, and determined resilience
Ethics and values of unquestioned brilliance
Seeds that she felt were the right ones to sow
Indeed sprouted roots and continued to grow
The great minds among us see forward and back
Through time and tradition to pick up the slack
Understanding the past for exploring the new
Reliable structures that extrapolate through
Contributions of insight, experiments that start
Without any kudos or gain from this part
Longitudinal work in its slow onward grindings
Bestow on the next generation deep findings
And then there’s the story of #16
The oldest of spiders the world had yet seen
A trapdoor whom Barbara discovered and tagged
Went virally famous when dead it was flagged
Though honoured to speak on behalf of the study
It pains me that Barbara’s thoughts then got muddy
Too late moments of praise, recognition of worth,
Efforts and great contributions to Earth
So much achieved, so much more to contribute
A lifetime of lessons passed on to distribute
Through publishing, teaching or close demonstration
Humanity learns only from collaboration