Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More info on the monarch situation.

Here's a good article that a friend posted on Facebook.  Has some good information and answers some of the basic questions about the tropical milkweed that is central to this whole issue, and some good advice and resources for those who want to learn more:

http://monarchjointventure.org/news-events/news/qa-about-research-related-to-tropical-milkweed-and-monarch-parasites

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tropical milkweed is weakening monarch butterfly populations.


A monarch caterpillar feeds on tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.

As well-meaning gardeners have heeded the call and planted lots of milkweed plants to help the monarchs, it turns out that the species of milkweed we have been planting the most has been leading to the proliferation of a parasite that is infecting and weakening these beloved insect ambassadors, and further reducing their populations.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Big, squished spider

That's what this post is about.  Yes, it's gross, and yes, there will be pictures.  You have been warned. I am not offended if you prefer to navigate elsewhere.



Ok?


Still here?

All right, then...

Even though this mess is clearly on a paper towel, I did try to keep it in the same position as when I found it for this first shot.   So basically you see what I saw on the wet sidewalk that made me do a double take.  Big smooshed up spider?  Or a beetle, maybe?  Or maybe just a wad of wet black string.  I leaned down for a better look.  Not string.  And too many legs for a beetle.  That's why I brought it home.  I just had to see what it was!


























Sizing him up.

Counting his legs.  No, you don't see 9 legs.  You see 7 legs and 2 pedipalps.  The pedipalps are the 2 leggish looking appendages in the front, to either side of the fangs.  They have sensory function for smell and taste, and help with sperm transfer during mating.

With the spider's overall size, long pedipalps and small abdomen, I have tentatively identified it as a male California Trapdoor Spider, 

I found this amusing bit of Trapdoor Spider trivia on BugGuide:
According to Guinness World Records, as of 2009, this is the strongest spider. It has been able to resist a force 38 times its own weight when defending its trapdoor. This equates to a man trying to hold a door closed while it is being pulled on the other side by a small jet plane.(1) Unfortunately, the Guinness book doesn't mention if it's the strongest North American spider or if it's the strongest in the world. Also, one thing to think about is whether or not every spider's strength has been measured (no, they most definitely have not). The information is flawed in many respects, but it still asserts the fact that these spiders are pretty strong.


You can see some good photos of living spiders here. This, in all its dead gory glory, was my first Trapdoor. And I say it still counts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A shy spider, jumping boldly

Brace yourself for more spider photos.  It is Arachtober, after all.

This is the same P. audax jumping spider from my last post.  Did I mention that I have given this spider a name?  Her name is Koko.  Like the gorilla who communicates in sign language.  Looks all big and hairy and scary, but she's really a big sweetie. Just like my spider.


It can be difficult to get her out of her container. She prefers the safety of her little silk sac.


Eventually, she crept toward the opening.


I was able to turn the jar over and tap gently to get her on the grass, where she continued to hide...


... in various positions..


Do you agree that she looks like a tiny gorilla? With extra legs, a few extra eyes, and big green fangs?


I had the brilliant idea to put Koko in a big plastic tub to make it easier for me to focus on her, and harder for her to hide.



But Koko was getting ideas of her own...


One second, she appeared to be reaching up...


And the next second...


And that was the end of our photo shoot for today!



Monday, September 08, 2014

A little spider-wrangling on a Monday morning

Arachnophobes, be warned. This post contains several pictures of a spider at fairly close range. Proceed at your own discretion.




Yesterday I went on a long and mostly uninspiring bug-walk at the arboretum.  I was by myself, just scouting around for my upcoming Bug Safari tour this weekend.  I really wanted to find a nice big praying mantis, but I found none.  None!   Maybe it's just my bad luck, but this just hasn't been a big year for the mantids.  I should have kept the few that I found earlier this summer, but I didn't because I figured I could always find another one.  That is proving to be harder than I thought.

So anyway, I had wandered to the far south end of the gardens, and had just started making my way back, when I noticed something moving among some tall grass stems.  It was a big black jumping spider. I love jumping spiders in general, because they are about as "cute" as a spider can get, with shorter legs and bigger eyes than most other spiders.  This species, Phidippus audax, can get pretty big, which (to me) just makes it "more to love".

I managed to get her into the collecting container I had brought along in case I found a mantis, after which I found another, even bigger P. audax, but that one was too fast for me.  I decided to quit while I was ahead and brought her home.

After pretty much leaving her alone overnight, I decided this morning that I would feed her, and then get her out of the little mesh container and try to take her picture.  She quickly caught the 2 flies I put in for her, and after she had finished eating them (or sucking the juices out of them) I tried putting her in a shallow white container, hoping that it would keep her contained and well visible for her photo shoot.



I should mention at this point, that jumping spiders are much more active than, say, orb-weavers, or black widows. (and nobody wants to see a black widow spider running around trying to climb out of a lidless shallow container!)  But anyway, this spider almost never stopped moving.

She alternated between running around the container wall...

And hiding from my flash.  Seriously, what if you had 8 eyes and somebody was taking your picture with a flash from 3 inches away?  And you had no eyelids?

Trying to make a break for it.

She did get out a few times.  After chasing her around the top of my patio table, trying not to hurt her, and wondering how much messing-with she would tolerate before she actually tried to bite me, I got the brilliant idea of just setting her down on the grass and taking her picture out there, in natural light.
My grass is short, and I was confident that I wouldnt lose her.  And I was right.  I was able to get a few more shots.







And here she is on my hand. You can see she's really not that big. Just about big enough, though!
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