Monday, December 27, 2010

Spider Byte

Kill a spider and bad luck yours will be,
Until of flies you've killed fifty-three.
          English folk-saying as recorded in The Book of the Spider by Paul Hillyard

Monday, December 20, 2010

Argiope argentata

An Argiope Argentata posing beautifully at Bolsa Chica. Look at that lovely silver tracing.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Back Yard Spider Update

Been a while since I wrote about the back yard spiders. This is partly because cold weather and rain have kept me from going out into the yard with my light and camera in search of spiders (This is one of many reasons I am not a Proper Naturalist. Proper Naturalists would go out anyway, even if they had to grow a third arm in order to hold the umbrella above the camera while angling the light).

Also, it is because the cold weather and the rain have discouraged the spiders, too. The big Neoscona have all vanished. Dead? Fled elsewhere? Cowering under things? Probably the first.

I haven't seen Little Brown and company in ages. I don't know if they moved out of the tree one night when I wasn't watching, or if they're still there and I've lost track of them (They always were hard to spot), or if they were eaten by one or the other of the house sparrows and finches that come by all the time.

Fence Spider vanished three days ago, which makes me sad. I was fond of Fence Spider. I wonder if anyone else will move into the spot?

And the house spider I was watching has vanished. Her egg sacs were still there for a couple of days, then they fell further down, and then vanished. Again, I don't know if that means they were eaten or if they've fallen behind the worm bin and will still hatch. She, I think, must be dead because otherwise, they'd still be fastened to the fence and she'd still be spending most of her time curled around one or the other.

Still present, Dark Legs has still been respinning her web each night. I think I spotted Light Legs recently as well, so the two may be enjoying marital bliss.

There are still plenty of other zygiella x-notatas out there, as well. Maybe the fence gives some extra warmth?

Oh, and we're not short of brown widows, either. The day we're short of brown widows, I'll think the world is ending.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wolf Spider

I went to Bolsa Chica Thursday and saw the sand move. After a bit of hunting and watching, I finally got a good look at the spider. It moved in quick, scuttling bursts, freezing in between.

Bugguide folks ID'd at as a wolf spider, a Lycosidae, of some kind. That explains why it seemed so comfortable on the flat surface rather than heading up to build a web.

It also means that the one I caught in the house the other day and couldn't identify was also a wolf spider (though probably a different species). I didn't get a picture of that one as the only jar available at the time was a faceted jam jar, no good for photos, and the spider, true to form, disappeared instantly the moment I opened the jar outside.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spider Byte

"A Mr. Wadey in Australia had a gold-fish pond and over this pond there was an outjutting piece of rock festooned with spider web. One morning in 1935 he saw much splashing there and found one of his gold-fish, two to three inches in length, entangled in the web. Going nearer he saw a large black spider on its back. The fish died. So did the spider, for Mr. Wadey had a kink in his make-up and preferred gold-fish to spiders."
     from The Spider by John Crompton

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Have Yourself a Very Spider Christmas

If you're really fond of spiders, you can find these at Roger's Gardens (probably elsewhere, too, but definitely there). I think the purple one is kind of cute. Sort of. A little. I mean, look at those little fangs, and then there's that adorable mustache.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spider Byte

The blue mud dauber may be a bit of a blackguard in one sense, but in another she is something of a heroine. Two workers at the Louisiana State University Medical Center found that blue mud daubers take reat numbers of black widow spiders. .. They found nearly one hundred black widows in five nests.
        from Wasp Farm by Howard Ensign Evans

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Spider's Thanksgiving

The Fence Spider is having a good Thanksgiving this year. Usually, when I see her with prey, it's fruit flies. Yesterday, she caught something much bigger with antennae that are hanging out of the knothole. I can't get a really good look, but I think it's a cricket.

Bon Appetit, my dear Agelenidae.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Steatoda Grossa: False Black Widow (2)

We're running across more and more Steatoda grossa in the house these days. There were the spiderlings in the kitchen, the one in the bathtub, another under the sink, and one under a backpack this morning. The three yellow lines on the abdomen (You can see them in this picture, if you look) are very helpful in identifying them.

I've been catching them--easy to do, just stick a jar over them, wait til they web to the bottom, turn it over, and put the lid on--and taking them outside to release them. They are not particularly venomous to humans, though reportedly their bites do hurt, and they eat black widows. I figure everyone will be happy with them outside. I read in one photographer's blog that putting them in the fridge for a while might slow them down long enough for photographs, and I thought I'd try it and see if I could get some ventral views, but I didn't want to hurt the spider, so I guess I didn't leave it in long enough: He took off as soon as the jar was turned over outside. This is one of two pictures I snapped as he dashed toward the nearest plant and hid himself under the saucer. I'm going to try to see if I can spot him near the rim of the saucer tonight, but I bet I won't. The Steatodas seem to be very light-sensitive and hide when I get near with the light.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fence Spider 2

 The Fence Spider is still at home and happy in her knothole. She really spins fairly elaborate sheet webs, spanning ten to twelve inches of the bar there, but they get broken every time anyone opens the door. She's not at all shy and will come out to investigate when I take photos.

Her position is an excellent one for catching fruit flies; I've seen her with up to three in the web. Unfortunately, I've never seen her at web-mending, so I do not know at what point she decides to jettison her prey.  I think she may be in the Agelenopsis family, but I am not entirely sure how to tell the difference between an Agelenopsis and a Hololena. I'm going by the leg stripes, at this point.

In any case, I'm still very impressed by the way she makes use of the existing structure of the fence for her funnel. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spider Byte

"Hypothetical calculations suggest that the spiders living on 1 hectare (2½ acres) of land devour over 47,500 kilograms (104,500 pounds) of prey each year, most of which is insects and other spiders."
          from The World of the Spider by Adrienne Mason

Black Widow Spiderlings

The other day, I went for a walk at Bolsa Chica, and I found this tiny spider living in under a curled up piece of bark. It was a pretty little thing, all marbled brown and white. I could tell it was a Theriid, and was pretty happy with myself for that, but otherwise, I had no idea.

Turns out it's a widow spiderling. Baby black widows really aren't black. Looking at the pictures up here, on bugguide, it looks like male black widows aren't always, either.

And looking at my own pictures, I'm no longer sure whether Milady is a black widow or a brown. This identification business is confusing.
Oh, and someone gave me a link to a site on black widows and the way to tell the difference between widows and steatoda. I'm still figuring it out. Anyway, the site is here. Since it seems all of the Theriids hurt when they bite, and it's generally a good idea anyway, my policy is "look but don't touch," for all spiders.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Steatoda Grossa: False Black Widow

 So, I'm learning that there are things that look like Black Widows but aren't.  They are all in the same family,Theridiidae, and all have the same hunched up body shape, but they are not all widows. They do, by all accounts, have a painful bite, just not up to widow standards.

Anyway, here are a few I've seen around the house and yard. These, I'm pretty sure are steatoda grossa (There are at least 3 kinds called "False black widow," so the scientific name comes in handy here). They're very shy. The widows I photograph just sit around and let me use the flash, the adult grossa outside runs into the plant saucer where he lives (he's bugguide ID'd as a male). The other--the one on the orange and white background--was racing across the bathroom wall, and I never did get a really clear shot.

Then there are the spiderlings: Someone told me they might be widows, but this was corrected: Apparently black widow babies aren't black--in fact, I have a picture of one I'll post tomorrow. Crazy, isn't it?

Spiderlings in the kitchen

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Silver Argiope at Bolsa Chica

These were all over the prickly pears. Stunning, aren't they? And very alien-looking.

Fortunately for me, there were some in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands building, so I had a quick ID. Also, they are natives to the area, which is always fun (Technically, Brown Widows aren't, but we sure have enough of them around).

Now, I need to learn more about them--like, what do they eat? How long do they live? Where are they when they are not on prickly pear cactus in Bolsa Chica? And so on and so forth.

It's amazingly hard to find lifestyle information on individual spiders. The Widows get a lot of press, but the nice, harmless, bug-eaters that hang around, not so much.

Argentata and very well-wrapped prey.

The Spider by Sabrina Crewe, a book review

Apparently, all spiders are black widows and all spiders have exactly the same life cycle and treat their young exactly the same way. At least, that's the way this children's book approaches things.

If The Spider were titled The Black Widow, or if it mentioned on the first page that it was talking about black widows and only black widows, I might give it a higher rating.  As it is, Crewe doesn't mention until near the end that "Oh, yes, this book is about black widows" and never mentions that other spiders might be different. Verdict? Give it a miss. There are much better books out there.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spider Byte

"Spider venom comes in many forms. It can often take a long while to discover the full effects of the bite. Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It's because spiders think this is funny, and they don't want you ever to forget them."
          from Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Daddy Longlegs Spiders by Jill C. Wheeler

I was attracted to this series because it talks of  individual spider species rather than lumping all spiders together in one, big, undifferentiated mass.  I've read Daddy Longlegs Spiders, Hobo Spiders, and Crab Spiders, all by Jill C. Wheeler, and that remains the series' chief virtue. It is good to see a series of books that recognizes that not all spiders are the same and that realizes that children can cope with this fact.

Otherwise, I'd rate the three as ok. Not great, not awful, ok. The pictures are good and might be useful to a reader of any age who is trying to learn to identify spiders.

I can't tell what age group the text is aimed at. The books are all written in short, declarative sentences which set up a rather monotonous mental rhythm (I would not like to try reading them out loud), but there doesn't seem to be any particular care with the vocabulary; I'd say they have more than their fair share of "long words."

Probably worth checking out in a bag load of library books, but not really worth hunting for unless you've a young spider enthusiast waiting for them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spider Byte

During World War II, fine silk threads from black widow spiders in America and from garden spiders in Britain were used for the cross hairs of telescopic gun sights.
        from The Book of the Spider by Paul Hillyard

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spider Costumes

One thing I'm learning: Spiders really know how to hide. Their costumes are much more subtle than the average Halloween attire.

These are the only spiders that regularly flaunt themselves in plain sight.  Most are a lot more subtle.

Take Dark Legs (a female zygiella x-notata). Can you see her up there? She has her legs resting on her "doorbell," a line of thread leading to the center of her web, but she herself gets to stay out of site.

How is that? Just a bunch of twigs, right? No spider at all.

That better? All that's really visible is the legs, just so long as you know where to look.

And here is Little Brown, an Araneus montereyensis, during the day, perched by the side of a twig, pretending to be a bit of bark or a drift of debris.

See? There she is!

Even larger spiders, like the Neoscona, can be hard to find. Just a lump in the brick:

Isn't it?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Funnel Web Spider in Flowers

I'm getting very fond of the funnel webs. They are easy to spot and quite willing to pose for photographs. Also, they have lovely stripes and beautiful gold and brown coloring.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The World of The Spider by Adrienne Mason

The World of the spider is a large book with plenty of space for photographs, and there are some lovely photographs, and Mason's text is brisk, informative, and to the point.

And... having said that, I'm stuck for anything else to say, even shortly after finishing it. It's a nice, informative book, but there's little to make it stand out one way or the other in a world full of nice, informative books.  It's got good photographs, but not the stunningly memorable ones found in, say, Nic Bishop's Spiders.  Flipping through it now, only Dwight Kuhn's picture of a jumping spider in mid-jump makes me pause for a second look.

So. there you have it: An unmemorable review of an unmemorable book. I'm not sorry I checked it out of the library, I'm also not sorry to return it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spider Byte

"Orb web spiders have special claws and non-stick feet so they can walk on their webs without getting stuck."
          from Spiders by Nic Bishop

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who's Watching Whom?

I went to open the back gate, and look who was looking back out at me:

She's a bold little Agelenidae/Grass spider, too. So far, she's the only one I've had come out to see what I'm doing when I take pictures, and this in daylight.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things I Thought I Knew But Didn't

 When I started this, there were some things I knew, or thought I knew, about spiders.

One of them was that spiders keep tidy webs, so if you brush away a messy, dusty web, you're not hurting anything.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Oh, the orb web spiders seem to fit this, more or less, but even they will cut corners. For the few days Belle was around, she tidied up her web every night and spun a new one, but Big Spider was not averse to re-using old anchor lines when she could, and once spun a shiny, new center while leaving the ragged outer edge untouched.

Other spiders are even less picky. The funnel web spiders have large, flat webs, perfect for catching the odd leaf or twig, and it doesn't seem to bother them in the least. Lady Lime has allowed a whole pile of debris to accumulate--just look at all those dead leaves!

Similarly, Legs, a cellar spider, was never troubled in the least by the odd bit of paper that got caught in her web, and her outdoor cousin Penelope, has allowed twigs, dog hair, and dried flowers to catch in her web without troubling overmuch about the housekeeping.

And as for the black widows! Milady's web was a shocking tangle of dog hair and debris, and it never did seem to occur to her that a little housekeeping might be in order.

It's not that they can't fix their webs. Treasure, a funnel web spider living below Lady Lime, recently had a huge rent in her web, probably caused when I was watering and shifting things around. She mended it quite tidily with some nice, new, smooth white silk. They just don't seem to care.

So much for my illusions or delusions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Domestic Disputes: Update and Corrections for 'Knaves and Thieves'

Female zygiella x-notata aka Dark-legs
So, it seems I was somewhat mistaken about the Knaves and Thieves in the great fly theft incident. Thanks to bugguide, I have more of an update(1): This was more domestic dispute than daylight robbery.

They are a couple, probably zygiella x-notata, sharing a web.  Light-legs, the male, got there first, but Dark-legs, the female, wanted, and got, the fly. I have been poking around a bit, but I can't tell which of them likely built the web.

As far as I can tell, the couple got through yesterday's torrential downpour all right. At least, there are still spider legs visible behind the trellis near the edge of the web.

(1) Yes, I could have waited until after they'd replied to my ID requests, but I was too excited and interested.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Spider by John Crompton, a book review

I almost didn't read The Spider. I'm in a hurry to learn as much as possible as fast as possible and The Spider, written in 1950, struck me as too dated. However, David Quammen had the wisdom to include some selections from the text in his introduction, and that lured me into starting. Crompton's opening paragraph hooked me, and I devoured the rest of the book. I'm glad I did. I would hate to have missed Crompton's prose and his easy, good-natured approach to spiders and people alike.

Actually, I suspect he rates the intelligence of spiders at a slightly higher level than that of most of his fellow humans, but he does so so charmingly that one can't hold it against him, and anyway, it is only the faintest of suspicions. On the whole, he seems to regard everyone, spiders and humans alike, as a group of charming, eccentric neighbors.

I read bits of the book out loud to whoever happened to be around at the time, and I look forward to reading more of Crompton's books and reading bits of them out loud as well.

I can't read out loud to you (probably to your relief), but I will close by giving the opening paragraph to the Preface, the one that hooked me:

Coming out of the theatre one may expect to hear some member of the audience remark to the other that the play, though very good, was quite impossible; that such things could never happen in real life. It always seems to me that the lives of certain insects are more like plays than reality. And very good plays a lot of them are, particularly those staged by the bees, ants, and wasps. But of all the plays now running, I am inclined to think that the one produced by spiders is the best. It has almost everything the modern audience wants; love interest, suspense, psychology, battle, murder, and sudden death. But here again one comes away with the impression that it is all very far-fetched; that such things could not possibly happen in real life.

And if you can resist that opening, the you are heard to please indeed!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Knaves and Thieves in the Spider Realm

I'm going to have to start carrying a camera with me all the time, not just most of the time if I want to catch dramas like this morning's great fly theft.

This morning, I went out to take out the trash and heard some buzzing. There was a fly caught in a web by the fence. A light-colored spider was trying, somewhat inefficiently to subdue it (At least, it was much slower than Cousin Sal's wrapping the bee had been). Over to the left, a smaller, much smaller spider, with similar markings was running up and down a thread, starting toward his/her bigger cousin and then aborting. The bigger spider was about 1/4 inch long, the smaller one the size of a pinhead.

That was interesting enough, but then a third spider appeared from the right. This one was the same size as the first spider but had darker legs. It came about halfway to the first, light-legged spider and plucked hard at the web. Light-spider kept on paying attention to the now-silent fly. Dark-legs plucked again. Light-legs ignored matters and kept on with the fly. Dark-legs ran all the way down to the spider, on the other side of the web and got kicked for his/her troubles, Light-legs still focused primarily on the fly, which she kept fussing with, though not wrapping.

She walked a little way away and dark legs dashed down and pulled at the web, hard. A tug-of-war ensued. Dark-legs won and began to carry the fly away.

I raced back for my camera and caught some of the rest.

Dark-legs took the fly to his right hand corner. Light-legs at first seemed resigned and began to wander around. Mending the web, perhaps? If so, I would have a better idea for certain whose the fly really was (after all, I had not seen the fly caught; perhaps Light-legs was the intruder).

But, no, after a bit of wandering, Light-legs oriented herself and marched up to the right-hand corner where Dark-legs had disappeared with the fly. There was a bit of kicking, and then all went still. I couldn't see behind the trellis, no matter how I tried, so I have no idea if one spider chased the other off, or killed the other, or if both settled down to share the fly, or if this was all a prelude to some domestic bliss, or what was going on.

The trellis remained stubbornly silent after this, and it started to rain, so I came in.

The pin-sized spider? He hung around on the left for a while and then gave up and tucked himself away behind the trellis on that side.

Light legs

Dark-legs takes the fly.

The fly vanishes.

Light-legs heads upward.

She is determined to get the fly back.

Some threshing legs stick out.

And all is silent.


Our yard is full of tiny little spiders, no bigger than the head of a pin, spinning tiny, perfect webs. Both pictures are larger than the actual spiders or webs. The webs are slightly, very slightly, larger than postage stamps:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Little Brown During the Day

Ha! Finally managed to find her during the day (at least, I'm almost sure this is the same spider). Here she is, resting under a leaf.

In addition to dropping down and pretending to be a piece of bark when I try to photograph her at night, she has the habit of spinning her web in a slightly different spot each night, and she generally destroys most of it by morning. She's camera shy.  Silly of her because, as you can see, she's an elegant little beauty with many shades of brown, gold stripes on her leg, and understated striping on the body.

The picture, by the way, is larger than the actual spider. Near as I can tell, she'd about cover the eraser end of a no. 2 pencil with her legs outstretched.

Edit: I was excited to finally have a daylight picture of her and posted it before hearing from the bugguide people. She's almost certainly a Araneus montereyensis. I'm going to keep an eye on her and see what she does.

Right now, she's all curled up under a leaf, legs tucked in, doing her best "I'm just a fleck of detritus" look.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Little Brown, Nightitme Images

I've been watching this little one for several days now. She's about the size of a pencil-end, legs included, and she's very nervous and very good at pretending to be a bit of bark or odd debris. If I so much as brush the leaves she drops down on a line and hangs still, or, if she's close enough, hides under a leaf.

Tentative ID via is that she's an Araneus bispinosus, but I'm instructed to keep watching--and will. I'm curious!

She's also lovely with her rough, nubbly back and shades of brown. She spins a slightly puzzle-piece looking orb web, not the tidy rounds of the barn spiders, but not the rough, ramshackle webs of the widows or cellar spiders.

Edit: Got some clearer daylight pics of her dorsal area. Seems she's probably a Araneus montereyensis. Sooo much to learn!