A very small problem

Sitting at my computer a few days ago, I was distracted by a tiny bug moving around on the screen. My first impulse was to identify it, and the way it moved, its body shape and what I could guess of its leg-count all said, “spider, not insect.”

My next impulse was to remove it without harming it, and this is the point at which things got really interesting: I discovered that it wasn’t on the screen at all, but inside it. That, naturally (for me, at least) called for a photograph. Out came the camera and the macro lens …

spider on computer screen
The distraction

But that was a problem, too, because photographing anything small, moving, poorly lit, obscured by its surroundings, or under glass is a challenge, and this was all five.

Let’s deal with the questions one at a time.

What is it?

Definitely a spider. My best guess is that it’s a jumping spider (Salticidae), both because jumping spiders are incurably curious roaming hunters and because of its big head and small body.

How big is it?

About 2 mm from nose to tail, which means it’s most likely a juvenile. A much more accurate answer can be calculated from the photos, given that my screen is “21.5-inch, 1920 x 1080px” according to the manufacturer, but I will leave that for mathematically inclined readers.

As I noted in an earlier post about macrophotography, the smallest adult spiders are around 0.1 mm long, so this one isn’t necessarily a juvenile and may even be a member of a permanent community in my computer case.

Exactly where is it, i.e., what is its immediate environment?

The photos seem to show it as being behind the illuminated pixels. The basic structure of the screen is a panel of lights, behind a panel of semiconductors and electronics, behind a pane of glass. (I would love to have a diagram or photo to show more detail but haven’t found one that is satisfactory so I might leave that as another challenge to technically-inclined readers.) I think that the spider’s most likely location is between the lights and the semiconductors.

How did it get in there?

Presumably through the cooling vents at the top or bottom of the case.

Wouldn’t it be too hot in there?

No. The temperature inside the screen is just comfortably warm to us (try putting your hand over the vent at the top where the warm air escapes) and spiders cope very well with our hottest summer weather.

How does one get the best photo?

In the right mood for a technical challenge and with plenty of time to experiment, this is what I did:

  • Canon DSLR with 100 mm macro lens, manual mode with flash, shooting at an angle to avoid flash reflection from the glass. (This is the set-up which produced my top photo.)
  • Cleaned dust off the screen because it was flaring under the flash (oops!).
  • Added +4 close-up filter.
  • Auto-focused on the pixels, then held the shutter button while I moved the camera one or two mm towards the screen to focus on the spider.
  • Switched off flash, increased ISO and exposure time to compensate.
  • Turned down screen brightness almost as low as it could go. This was the most counter-intuitive step, since more light usually helps photographers, but the brightly coloured pixels between the camera and the subject were the biggest problem, and letting them fade to grey was best.
spider in computer screen
Very distracting pixels
spider in computer screen
The spider in the screen – final camera settings

There may be better ways of taking such a photo, of course. Once again I will leave the challenge with technically-inclined readers – and I would love to hear your suggestions!

What happened to the spider?

I don’t know. After roaming around freely for at least an hour he left the screen – or I just lost sight of him. He might have left through the vents, he may have made his way behind the panel of lights and be living there happily with whatever else lives there, or he may have died and fallen to the bottom of the case. Let’s just hope for the best.

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