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For those who have a dark view of Southern California, it might seem fitting to find Satan buried in a cemetery in Orange County next to a Carl’s Jr burger joint.

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Entomologist and photographer Piotr Naskrecki calmly unreels the most startling tales of the natural world in his mind-boggling new book, “Relics.”  We learn that sexual size dimorphism, where one of the sexes is much bigger than the other, is common, and that one of the most extreme examples of sexual size dimorphism can be seen here, in the giant orb weaver, Nephila maculata. This spider is common on New Guinea and neighboring islands. Dr. Naskrecki writes: “These huge spiders build webs made of silk of such strength that smaller birds can get entangled in them, and in some parts of their range fishermen use these webs to make light and durable fishing nets and traps.” Once the tiny male spider is ready to mate, he finds the web of an adult female, and waits for the right moment. He must be very careful to avoid being eaten by the object of his affections, as she is a voracious predator. If he is successful, he will spin a web on the female’s body to keep from being brushed off and then will move to the base of her abdomen to deliver the sperm.

In a recent email, Dr. Naskrecki discussed his photographic approach. “In my work as a biologist and photographer, I strive to document this neglected majority of life, and focus my camera on those things that usually escape notice of casual observers: dancing spiders, ‘cattle’-herding ants, leaf-mimicking praying mantis or blood-squirting lizards. As I track them down, sometimes in remote, tropical locations, I often witness acts of aggression and predation directed bluntly at the very photographic subjects I am trying to document: birds steal my grasshoppers a second before I can press the shutter, dragonflies pick spiders right out of their webs, or swarms of ants attack and kill the beetle I so slowly and cautiously approached.”

All images courtesy Piotr Naskrecki/The University of Chicago Press

Giant orb weaver, Nephila maculata, New Guinea.

Nymphs from the famliy Tesaratomidae are some of the flattest insects on earth, and this allows them to squeeze into the tight spots at the bases of leaves to feed. The bright colors warns of its ability to spray chemicals from thoracic glands at predators. New Guinea.

High humidity and rainfall allows normally aquatic creatures to live on the mossy bottoms of New Guinea’s forest, including this small, pink amphipod crustacean.

A female Gasteracantha sapperi, New Guinea.

Helmeted katydid, Saima sp., New Guinea.

Two-horned spider, Caerostris sexcuspidata. In the dry climate of the southern African subcontinent, many animals have evolved to mimic desiccated wood.

An as yet unnamed spider, an example of a lichen mimic, West Africa.

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[UPDATE: A couple of Boing Boing readers have translated articles that say this encounter was staged. Read the comments below.]

[Video Link] This is a fascinating 15-minute video that shows a hunter-gatherer tribe in Papua New Guinea meeting with people from the outside world for the first time. They are very cautious, but also very curious, about the man on the other side of the river. They eventually cross the river to meet Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, the producer of Tribal Journeys: The Toulambi. When the men see Dutilleux's clothing, they then look at the clothes they are wearing, as if for the first time. When they stroke Dutilleux's hair, they then stroke their own hair.

It looks like all five parts of the documentary are on YouTube.

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