Spider fan finds Green Bay a ‘great fit’

Graduate student studies spiders at UW-Green Bay.When a student reveals he or she has come a long way from home to attend the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, it begs the question, “what brought you here?”

For Andrew Mckenna-Foster, a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Policy program, it was the reputation of UW-Green Bay’s “spider man,” Prof. Michael Draney.

Mckenna-Foster came from Nantucket Island, Mass., where he was an intern at the Maria Mitchell Natural Science Museum. Following James H. Emerton, a well-known arachnologist from the late 1800s, as an example, the museum conducts “spider walks” to collect and identify as many spiders as it can find on the island.

“Spiders are found everywhere — under rocks, in the grass, in the trees and ballooning out in the atmosphere,” Mckenna-Foster explained. “During a spider walk, there are people with kite-like nets in the sky, shaking tree branches, checking under things and just walking through the grass.”

Spider research at UW-Green Bay.While interning at the museum, the young spider fan heard about Draney, an associate professor of Natural and Applied Sciences. Draney’s research interests lie in the ecology and taxonomy of invertebrates, especially spiders.

“North American arachnologists are actually a close-knit group,” Mckenna-Foster said. “Prof. Draney’s interests in spider surveys, collecting methods and land management issues fit my interests and my current thesis. The program at Green Bay was a great fit for me.”

Mckenna-Foster estimates more than 200 species of spiders were found in the Green Bay area out of the 477 known species in Wisconsin. Over the years, Draney has found more than a dozen new species, and he leads at least one spider event each year.

Draney said he has enjoyed working alongside Mckenna-Foster. “He’s the best student I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’m lucky that he decided to come here to study.”

Mckenna-Foster will receive his master’s degree at spring commencement May 16. After that, he plans to continue his work with Draney, and ultimately pursue a Ph.D. In the meantime, he’ll return to Nantucket Island this summer for more spider walks and studies, specifically purseweb spiders such as tarantulas.

– Story by University Marketing/Communication intern Rachel Rivard. Photos by Vicki Medland.