Retired Researcher’s Decades of Work on Texas Spiders Published

 Allen Dean standing with a specimen from his collection. Photo by Rob Williams.

Allen Dean standing with a specimen from his collection. Photo by Rob Williams.

Former research assistant Allen Dean has turned an interest in learning about spiders into a decades-long effort to catalog all spider species of Texas. Recently, these records were turned into a 700-page catalogue of Texas spiders that was recently published online.

This paper, titled “Catalogue of Texas Spiders,” is the end result of the work of several decades of collecting and researching on various spider species statewide, as well as literature reviews from other publications that were published decades ago.

The catalog contains a list of 1,072 species in 53 families and includes the species, its distribution and locality, habitat, collecting method and notes about each species with an extensive reference section.

Some of the more notable numbers of species collected and recorded include340 species recorded in Hidalgo County, 323 in Brazos County, and 314 in Travis County. In addition, several endangered species from two families, Dictynidae and Leptonetidae, are listed.

Dean first started working with spiders in 1977 when Dr. Winfield Sterling wanted to study the role of spiders as predators in cotton agroecosystems even though he knew little about spiders. He started collaborating with Dr. Norman Horner at Midwestern State University to help with identifications.

Although only very limited lists of spider species were available when he began the project, Dean wanted to expand on previous works published by Bea Vogel and B.J. Kaston, as well as other authors that have recorded species from Texas.

He then started keeping track of Texas spiders for the publication beginning around 1980. He added information from various sources of information, including previously published papers, the spider collections at Texas A&M University and other institutions, and his own collection.

Dean also had help from the Texas A&M Insect Collection curator Dr. John Oswald, former Associate Curator Ed Riley and Curator Emeritus Horace Burke as they allowed him access to and support for expanding the collection. “Ed traveled extensively collecting insects and spiders that added many additional records,” Dean said. “The insect and spider collection at TAMU continues to grow. We currently have about 20,000 vials of spiders from Texas, United States, Mexico, and other countries.”

Dean was, additionally, a resource for students needing to identify spiders for their research projects and also cooperated with several scientists statewide. He said that these collections done by graduate students, staff and faculty have helped immensely with expanding the collection at TAMU.

Dr. Marvin Harris had worked with Dean for more than 30 years on various projects with his lab and when Sterling was leading the cotton entomology program. Harris said that spiders do play a very important role in several agroecosystems in the state, including pecans.

“His work in the Pecan Insect Lab at Texas A&M University involved numerous students over 30+ years and also caused me to rethink the role spiders play in the pecan agroecosystem,” Harris said. “My current view is that they constitute a very robust first line of biocontrol and are largely responsible for the maintenance of endemicity of insectan herbivores in most places most of the time.”

Harris added that the publication will help expand knowledge of spiders’ roles in other agroecosystems.

“This publication will allow such ideas, as well as many others, to be tested in ecosystems and agroecosystems throughout the state. Allen Dean’s decades-long effort documents an increase in 50% of the genera and 100% of the species of spiders that are now known to occur in Texas,” Harris said. “The publication is chock full of information in addition to species identifications. This is now the most important reference on spiders of Texas and will be useful to experts world-wide that study spiders and to non-specialists that study arthropod complexes that wish to include studies of spiders.”


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