Snow Critters

Snow Critters (5 of 7)Watch where you step!

We often think of winter as being a time when most animals are inactive – hiding it out, waiting for warmer temperatures.

Besides deer and birds, look what else we found during a lunch-time walkabout at Audubon yesterday… And they were all moving… slowly, but moving nonetheless.

{I don’t know the species of any of them [and I’m too busy (lazy?) to look them up], so if you do – please teach us!}

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Snow Critters (1 of 6)

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Snow Critters (2 of 6)

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Snow Critters (3 of 6)

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Snow Critters (4 of 6)

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Snow Critters (5 of 6)

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Snow Critters (6 of 6)

Jumping Spiders

Look who I found on my kitchen table.  How cute!

Spider (2 of 2)

Oh my gosh… did I actually just use the word “cute” to describe a spider?  I’ve come a long way from the days when even a picture of a spider in a book made my skin crawl.

At Audubon, we’re preparing a new lesson for 3rd grade called “The Hunters and the Hunted.”  We’ll be including a section on spiders, for they have many ingenious strategies for catching their prey.  I’m sure when I was in third grade I thought that all spiders built webs to catch their food…  Turns out, that is only one of many methods among arachnids!

A jumping spider, for example, can spin silk, but he doesn’t use it to make a web.  He may attach the beginning of a strand to his starting location before jumping.  If it turns out to be a bad jump, he can return to the start by following this drag line.  Or, after catching prey, he might attach a strand of silk to it… just in case he drops it while munching; using the silk, he can reel it back in.  Females build silken shelters for eggs under leaves, then guard them until the babies hatch.

Spider (1 of 2)

Jumping Spiders are in the Family Salticidae which boasts over 4,000 species.  They are reported to jump 10-40 times their body length, and to have the best eyesight of any spider with the ability to see prey up to 8 inches away.  A Jumping Spider may bite you if you corner it or handle it, but unless you are allergic to spider venom, the bite is unlikely to be harmful.

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Argiope Season

I’ve never been a big fan of spiders.  I find them a bit creepy…  When I was a child, I couldn’t even look at a picture of a spider without getting scared.  With time fears fade.  I used to feel similarly about bees; the other day I stood surrounded by them as I took butterfly pictures and they didn’t bother me at all… not one little bit.

Spiders still startle me when I see them, but my heart calms quickly and I will stand and watch without fear.  One of the first photos I took with my new Canon Rebel XT back in August of 2006 was this one:

 Garden Spider

It was a lucky find and a lucky shot since I knew next to nothing about my camera or photography at the time.  As I’ve learned more about my camera, I’ve hoped to find such an opportunity again come August…  Yes, I’ve actually hoped to see a spider!  My, I’ve come a long way, haven’t I?

While walking the trails at Audubon the other day, I did happen upon another Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia).

Garden Spider   Garden Spider

Because this one has a less spectacular web, and a smaller abdomen, I wonder if it a male?  The accounts I have read indicate the the male is smaller and his web is not as big or elaborate…  I’ve also read that his web is usually built nearby a female, but this is the only one I noticed.

Of all the things I’ve read about Argiopes, the fact that amazed me most comes from the “Red Planet” link below.  The zig zag thing down the middle of the web is called a stabilimenta.  A web with a stabilimenta catches 34% fewer insects, but is less likely to be damaged by a bird flying through it.

I think I’ll keep my eye open for more of these… Would be fun to find a female and male web close by each other and observe for a while.  Does she really eat her web and reconstruct daily?  Does she really eat her mate?  So many things that would be fun to observe first hand… In the meantime, I’ll keep reading…

Read More about Argiopes:

Got Milk(weed)?

Today I was out early checking my bird boxes.  Some of them sit in a really lovely large patch of Common Milkweed.

Common Milkweed 2   Common Milkweed 1

Since I have been seeing Monarch Butterflies, I decided to check the plants for eggs or caterpillars.  I didn’t find any Monarchs at all.  But I found plenty of other stuff!  Take a look:

Milkweed Bugs
Milkweed Bug - Youngster   Milkweed Bug - adult

Harvestman
Harvestman on Milkweed

Bagworm
Bagworm

A Snail
Snail on Milkweed

Somebody Hiding in a Rolled Up Leaf
Milkweed Leaf Roll from back

and my favorite:  Virginia Ctenucha Moth!
Virginia Ctenucha Moth 4

Crab Spiders

When I was little, I couldn’t abide spiders.  I couldn’t even bear to look at a picture of a spider in a book.  Certain (big hairy) spiders still have that effect on me.  Still, I’ve learned to appreciate their beauty and complexity.

Crab Spider on Oxeye Daisy

Crab Spider on Queen Anne's LaceThe common name “Crab Spider” comes from the fact that the spider looks somewhat crab-like, and/or the fact that it can move like a crab – frontwards, backwards, or sideways.  There are several species given this common name and they fall into a handful of spider families.  One common feature is leg length; the front two pairs are quite a bit longer than the back two.

Crab Spiders don’t make webs, nor do they wrap their prey in silk.  Instead, they lay quite still and ambush insects that come too close.  Several species are colored so that they can hide on flowers to await pollinators such as bees, flies, and butterflies.  With strong venom, they can paralyze prey bigger than they.

Gary Dodson of Ball State University discovered that males of the species Misumenoides formosipes drink flower nectar.  He is devising a study to try to find out if nectar gives the males an advantage in fighting or mating success.  Fascinating.

Crab Spider on Clover

Most Crab Spiders live only one summer season, laying eggs which will overwinter.

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