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November 11th, 2009 - Mold Monsters, Teddy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

All photos by Ted K.
My friend Ted has a Master's in 'Urban Exploration.'
Well, as close to a Masters as you can have in a somewhat clandestine field. He is a trained anthropologist, experienced climber, and hole in the fence passer-througher. He likes a good abandoned building, broken down millrace, or remnant of a grain-elevator to explore and analyze for anthropological evidence.
I've come along on some of his expeditions.
Growing up in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior with it's many abandoned coal & iron oredocks, sawmills, and boathouses, we didn't think anything of "inviting ourselves in" to have a look and a poke around. It's what you did to see some history in your town.
These days the legalities are a different story, but I have to say it is so interesting to see how things change, even by looking at abandoned things from our relatively recent past.
Ted posted a couple pictures from some adventures I missed that piqued my interest. More than that, they had me saying to myself, and Ted, "No F'ing way. You put that there. You made it, and staged the shot." But no.
After seeing what looked like a tinker-toy spider made out of those plastic stick-together modelling parts they use to make molecule forms in chemistry class (above) I had to call him to the carpet on it. It looked so artificial, yet so organic.
He said no, they were there exactly as photographed, and what was even stranger, one was in Ohio, and one was in downtown Minneapolis!

I asked if he could write up a little description of his experiences (and his brother's, who was along on one of the trips) with what he called "The Mold Monsters."
The response was as follows:
"Again, it was pretty humid in both places, as in: wet. The first location was in an abandoned underground steam tunnel (in Ohio, under a boarded-up college, under the Sciences Building, no less. Figures.) The second was in the basement of an abandoned army base HQ here in Minneapolis.
In size, both were about the size of an old 50 cent piece (JFK)" (Like anyone is going to know what that is, Ted, sheesh).
"Up close they looked less like they were the remains of spiders, and more like they were growing on filaments of some kind--i.e. spider webs. They had a fuzzy/hairy surface to them and were pure white. The balls themselves varied in size but I would guess were roughly 3 cm on average. We didn't dissect or find any broken open."
My first thought was that the white balls were actually egg sacs belonging to some spider, but I had never seen anything left in such a symmetrical pattern like that.
The weird thing I noticed about the first one is how the 'white orbs' descend in size as they get further and further away from the main 'body orbs.' And that they look to be on every joint of a 'spider's legs'. (There are eight, coincidence...?)
To me, the first one's shape looks to be basically that of a "Cellar Spider" (commonly called a "Daddy Long-Legs", but this is a confusing entomological 'misnomer'. The Daddy Long-Legs name is also applied to two distantly related arthropod groups: the harvestmen (which are arachnids but not spiders), and crane flies (which are insects). I'm not sure who's daddy was first or who deserves the name more, but the spiders I'm thinking about are from the Pholcidae spider family in the suborder Araneomorphae.
The second photo looks to me like the basic shape of some of the Crab Spiders, in the Thomisidae family of the order Araneae.
As I was showing these images to Siah St. Clair, the director of the Springbrook Nature Center and describing my thoughts about them, I began to come to the same hypothesis he did, and almost said it before it came out of his mouth.
He said, "I think it's one of two things. Either it's a spider's cast-off molt that has become a skeletal structure for some type of 'mold balls' to grow upon, or it's a dead spider corpse itself, now growing mold on it's body parts in the same manner."
It makes sense.
The areas where the 'orbs' are found concur with where the 'fleshy' exoskeletal areas of the spider are thickest, maybe harboring moisture and providing a start for mold growth.
Er, well, that's the theory anyway.
Anyone ever seen anything like this...? I'm wondering if this particular mold is picky about where it grows. Does it seek out spider corpses exclusively? Since they were both found in areas 'man-made', (and I personally haven't seen anything like this anywhere else, but I would like to hear from people with more sightings) is it related to human activity from when the locations were inhabited?
Keep your eyes peeled for moldy spiders. Or whatever you think they are.
And if you see a dim headlight in a boarded-up building, cut Ted some slack. He's probably documenting histories of ancient societies and strange life forms...


nailerr said...

Well I just founds your page here after finding exactly these same "things" in a small structure at the end of my garden. I pretty quickly assumed it was mould inside a spider, but why I also would like to know.

This is Germany incidentally. So it's not simply a local phenomena!

dignature said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm still looking into the nuts & bolts of why this happens, I have an entomologist friend I can ask about it, but I think I may need a moldologist friend as well. I will keep you updated on whatever I find...
- T.

bababooey said...

I have tons of these in my cellar, which is about a 5' high crawl space. There is tons of moisture down there and I get water in the cellar every heavy rainstorm which gets pumped out with the sump pump. These mold spiders have been growing down there for years and every now and then I take the shop vac down there and suck them up. They are so creepy looking and I hate when they get in my hair! I'm in Massachusetts by the way.

Anonymous said...

look up pholcidae family, I took it to the museum. It has mold on it

Anonymous said...

I have the same spiders in the basement of my 1880s in Chaska MN home I am buying...they are large with the exact likeness to your photos. but with a differnce, about 150 spiders all hanging perfectly from the ceiling at differnt levels like they had died due to the mold growing on them. I wonder if it is linked to radon or Co2 or something that could cause this that might be harmful to others?

Anonymous said...

had them in the basement as well. The only thing was while there were spiders, more crystal than moldy, all the millipedes/centipedes where still brown or skeletal hanging in the 20+ years of cobwebs. The white stuff on the ceiling seemed to be more crystal than moldy -- in searching on the web -- it's possible it's mineral efflorescence (mineral deposits) instead of mold. After cleaning all out yesterday using a shop-vac my allergies don't seem to be escalated. The space was a coal bin with a gravel (not concrete) floor in southwest Pennsylvania

dignature said...

Thanks for your comments. I haven't been in a situation to see these up close for a while and I regret not preserving one as a sample to look at under our microscope at work. I would be interested to know what they are actually composed of, and if it has any mineral properties such as fluorescence.
The thing that gets me is how symmetrical the spheres are and how the spiders just seem to have stopped in their tracks, rather than curling up in a ball, or flattening out, etc. It's a neat little mystery.