The Green Issues Summer Movie Series continued with its fourth installment on July 3, with attendees viewing the film Maratus: One Photo Can Change Your Life. The film, from director Simon Cunich, details the experiences of Stuart Harris, an Australian garbage collector and amateur naturalist and photographer.
On a day in 2008 when Mr. Harris was out hiking in the bushland, taking his usual photographs of “little stuff … pretty things,” he encountered a spider with electric blue markings, standing out very noticeably on a bright yellow leaf. Harris snapped a photo, posted it online, and then began to receive unexpected and excited feedback from a number of individuals who suggested that this was something never-before-seen, possibly even a new species.
Intrigued by the remarks, including those from scientist Jurgen Otto — a specialist in mites who works for the Australian 0government as a researcher, but who is also a world-renowned expert on the Maratus spider — Harris was determined to find the spider (or one of its relatives) again. Several local friends accompanied him on searching expeditions; Dr. Otto, too, came to help. One day, after more than 150 hours searching, and nearly three years after the initial discovery, Harris was hiking at the Booroomba Rocks and again found — and this time physically captured — the strikingly-colored variety of jumping spider he had seen before. Harris handed off the specimen to Otto for further study.
Nicknamed “peacock spiders” for the manner in which males of the Maratus species display their colorful upper abdominal region during courtship, Otto was able to further photograph and videorecord Harris’s spider and to verify it as, indeed, a new variety of the species. It was given the name Maratus Harrisi in Stuart Harris’s honor. (We would encourage readers to do an internet image and video search of the species, to be able to see this truly stunning creature, including its dancing ability.)
The film highlighted the issue of citizen scientists — demonstrating ways that individuals, without advanced degrees or recognized expertise, can truly participate in the advancement of scientific discovery. Harris, initially uncertain that he had anything to offer as an amateur naturalist, realized that he offered quite a great deal. He eventually built upon his experiences and obtained a degree in Environmental Management. He continues to collaborate with Dr. Otto and many others.
Ultimately, through the group’s collaborative efforts, four additional varieties of Maratus were located and identified.
In a film series which often focuses on large, difficult and troubling problems such as climate change, pollution, and natural resource depletion, Maratus offered viewers an opportunity to consider some of the joyous aspects of being environmentally aware and engaged with nature.
The Green Issues Summer Movie Series is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and the Wabash College Library. Screenings are held in Korb Classroom, in Wabash College’s Fine Arts Center, and are free and open to the public. The next film will be Chemerical: Redefining Clean for a New Generation. It will be shown at 7 p.m. July 16. Light refreshments will be offered before and brief discussion will occur after the film.