Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Sluuuuuurp!

I was out with my intern a few weeks ago looking for caterpillars and showed her some spicebush swallowtail and black swallowtail caterpillars before we made our way to the pipevine to look for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. She hadn’t ever seen the pipevines, so I pointed out a few and we started looking around to see how many we could find on the plants.  I peered into the leaves trying to find a big caterpillar that was about to pupate when I saw a really odd-looking, shriveled caterpillar.  I assumed it was dead, but when I looked a little closer it moved.  So I looked even closer and saw this:

Jumping spider eating a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar

If that spider could smile, it totally would!  He (or she) looked quite pleased with himself and was dragging the wrinkly carcass around with him as he tried to hide under a leaf.  He was NOT letting that thing go – it was probably the score of a lifetime!

Isn’t nature grand?

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Sometimes It’s Okay to Be Blurry

Ever have this happen: you take a photo of something that’s moving quickly in low-ish light and it’s super blurry, but you kinda like it anyway?  That’s what happened with this millipede:

Millipede blur

Millipede blur

No idea what kind of millipede this is, but it was pretty and I wanted a photo.  This is not a clear photo by any means, but it’s my favorite of the lot anyway.

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Welcome 2014!

This spider is happy it’s 2014, so he’s celebrating:

jumping spider

Dancing jumping spider

Hope you are too!  Here’s to a happy, productive, and wonderfully fun 2014 for you all!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5 (on Saturday): A Web of Spiders

One of the great things about working at a field station run by a natural history museum is that you’re surrounded by people who share your interests.  This is no small thing when you’re an entomologist!  Sure, we get along famously with other entomologists, but once we leave the comfort of our own kind, we’re exposed to a lot of squeamishness and people who really don’t get  how we could possibly be interested in insects for any purpose other than figuring out how to kill them as quickly as possible.  It’s GREAT to be around other people who appreciate nature when you love nature, and it’s part of the reason why I love my job.

Case in point: yesterday morning, a museum retiree stopped by our lovely construction trailer/office to chat for a few minutes.  He’s a great guy and incredibly knowledgeable, so we discussed a few of the trees in the arboretum he’s built in the lowland area of the field station over the last few years and a few other things before he headed out.  He wasn’t gone long though!  He came back in about 20 seconds later saying, “You all have GOT to come see this!!” and rushed back out the door.  I was thinking he’d seen the sort of thing that most people at Prairie Ridge get excited about, a large bird, snake, or mammal, but instead he’d found a stick mantid egg case on the underside of the handrail for the stairs to the other entrance to the trailer.  Woo!  Stick mantids are cool, so I was excited.  We had admired the egg case for a few moments when the arborist looked up and pointed at this with a big grin on his face:

scarab in spider web

Scarab in spider web

A scarab beetle was dangling from a large spider web!  Clearly it had gotten tangled in the web and had been trapped.  But neither the web nor the beetle were what excited our arborist.  It was this little dew drop spider:

Dew Drop spider

Dew drop spider

That spider was about 1/4 inch long and was EATING THE BEETLE!  The arborist was practically bouncing up and down as he watched the little spider eating the beetle.  These spiders are cleptoparasites, animals that steal food that other animals have captured.  In this case, our little spider was feeding on a large beetle that had been trapped in the web of a much larger orb weaver spider.  The orb weaver was hidden inside the handrail or the day, so the little dew drop spider was helping herself to some food.  The arborist started looking at the web, saying that it was likely that a much smaller male was hanging around too.  Sure enough, there he was, a couple of inches away!

male dew drop spider

Male dew drop spider

At this point, we had a complicated food web going, with a small cleptoparasitic dew drop spider stealing food from a larger predatory orb weaver spider that had captured it, all while a male dew drop spider looked on.

That alone would have been pretty cool, but things got more exciting when we startled the little dew drop spider and she dropped onto the stairs below.  She stayed completely still for several minutes as we all watched to see what she would do.  She eventually made her way over to the handrail, her swollen abdomen flopping from side to side.  We were watching her crawl up the handrail support and debating whether she was full of eggs or not when the arborist exclaimed, “Wow!!!  Did you see that??!!”  He pointed at this:

Jumping spider eating dew drop spider

Jumping spider eating dew drop spider

A little jumping spider, likely a juvenile of one of our larger jumper species, had dashed out of the space between two of the handrail supports and snagged the dew drop spider!  So, now we had a predator eating a cleptoparasite who was stealing food from a predator while the male dew drop spider looked on.  Quite the complicated little food web was developed!

We watched for a few minutes as the jumping spider carried the dew drop spider’s limp body before the arborist wandered back to his car and the rest of us headed back inside.  I looked over the photos I’d taken and realized that I hadn’t gotten any decent shots of the male spider, so I went back out to snap a few more shots.  As I walked past the handrail, I looked to see how far the jumping spider had gotten in devouring the dew drop spider.  Right at that moment, another jumping spider entered the mess, attempting to grab the first jumper!  The attacker missed and the jumper with the dew drop spider scurried away.  I followed the second jumper around with my camera for a few minutes, and it eventually crammed itself down into a little gap between the handrail and the support and looked out at me:

jumper in gap

Jumper in gap

If the second jumper had succeeded, it’s hard to say how the food web would have been impacted.  If it had eaten the other jumper, that would have been a predator eating a predator that was eating a cleptoparasite that was stealing food from another predator while the male dew drop spider looked on.  If, however, the second jumper had snatched the dew drop spider away from the first jumper, it would have been a cleptoparasite eating food captured by a predator who had caught a cleptoparasite that was eating food captured by a predator as the male drop spider looked on!  Regardless, there were 5 different players in this little drama, and that was on a single spider web on a single handrail on an ugly construction trailer where my office is located.

This all illustrates a point: nature is complex if you take the time to look.  If you have a few people who are willing to watch a crazy complicated little spider-focused food web develop with you, well… That makes the experience even better!  I consider myself lucky to work with people who will gladly spend 15 minutes watching little spiders on a handrail.  Here’s to many more similar adventures in the future!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Letter to a Spider

Dear Spider Who Builds Its Web Across the Door to My Backyard,

You are lucky that I’m an entomologist.  Most people, after running face first into your terribly inconveniently placed web in the dark, probably wouldn’t have just backed away and looked to see where you were.  While I will admit that I was quite happy to learn that you weren’t in my hair, nearly any other person probably would have tried to kill you after discovering you lurking up near the roof.  Instead, I took down one little support from your web and squeezed out the door around the rest, leaving you be.  I was sorry to see that you were back tonight, even though by now you should know better than to build your web across the back door.  Don’t you know that large mammals walk often through that area?  I did snap a few photos, true, and flashed bright lights in your eyes, but look how cute you look:

spider on web

That was worth a few bright lights, right?

Please note that continued web construction across the only rear exit from my house may result in relocation to the front of the house.  There, you will have to compete with other spider of your kind who has been building a web across the walkway to the front door.

Sincerely,
The Dragonfly Woman

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: New Toys!

I mentioned in the post I wrote just before my recent trip to California that I had gotten some new toys: new cameras.  Most excitingly, I have long coveted the Canon MP-E 65 lens, so I bought myself my first Canon DSLR!  I couldn’t be happier with that purchase.  I knew the lens would have a bit of a learning curve as it doesn’t have a focusing ring, but I LOVE the lens!  You’ll be seeing a lot more photos taken with that camera, I’m sure, but this is one of my favorites from my very first Canon DLSR shoot:

Green lynx spider

Green lynx spider

That’s a green lynx spider sitting on one of the black-eyed susans that’s awaiting planting in my native plant bed.  I can already tell that I am going to get a LOT of use out of my new toy.  :)

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Leggy

When I went to Bug Shot in August, I came across dozens of different spiders.  I almost walked into the web of this one, and caught sight of it just before I ended up with a spider on my face:

Spider

Spider

Now I’m not entirely sure how I would respond to having a spider on my face, but I used to be really scared of spiders when I was a kid (I had recurring nightmares about them being in my bed!) and I suspect that would come pouring back out if face-spider contact had occurred.  Thankfully, I noticed it in time and snapped a few shots of this beauty rather than screaming like a little girl and making a total idiot out of myself in front of all the other bug lovers at Bug Shot. :)

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth