Tag Archive: bugs

while on holiday, i got the chance to do something i don’t find a lot of time for right now–go bug hunting!  the garden where we were staying was small, but verdant, and i found a few obliging subjects.  none fell into the notoriously venomous/aggressive category that seems a bit overrepresented in australia (like the sydney funnel-web, redback, or mouse spider).  this one is a philodromid (maybe Tibellus?), apparently related to crab spiders.  i just liked the spiky setae.

DSC_0383the one that caught my eye the most was this beautiful st andrew’s cross spider (Argiope aetherea; i especially like the genus name, which means “silver face”).  i’ve come across Argiope before, and was fascinated by the stabilimenta that some species weave into their webs.  this one didn’t have any but was pretty enough without!

DSC_0406and finally, one of australia’s most recognizable web-builders, the golden silk orb weaver, Nephila sp. (today is brought to you by excellent latin names; Nephila means “fond of spinning”, which i hadn’t yet found out when these guys last made appearances here and here).  you can see the golden color of the silk in this photo, which is interesting as it didn’t look that golden to the naked eye, and if you scroll down the wikipedia page you can see what must be one of the most impressive spider-related human creations of all time, a cape made of Nephila silk.  OMG.  this one did not appear to be all that industrious, just hanging out mid-air at australia zoo, startling anyone who may or may not have thought it would be funny to hide behind a tree for a prank.  hint: in australia… don’t!


big, fat, hairy christmas


do you see how jolly this avondale spider (molt) is?  i’m pretty sure she’s grinning from chelicera to chelicera… and i might even know why.  partly because i took this photo aaaaaaages ago and am finally posting it, but also for a more exciting reason: santa claus is bringing me tarantula molts for christmas!  long story short, one of my grad students was working with someone studying the genus Poecilotheria (arboreal tarantulas, how cool is THAT) and it came about that he had some molts he’d be interested in examining by SEM.  guess what–i can help :)  so they’re on their way, some large, empty, hairy skins of some of the most exquisitely beautiful (and sadly, at risk of extinction due to habitat loss) tarantulas i’ve ever seen.  i mean, look at this (borrowed from wikipedia here).  it’s BLUE!

File:Poecilotheria metallica.jpg

i’ll be looking at a few things on the molts including some systematic characters, which may even help understand this genus’ diversity a bit better–which could ultimately help in making a case for their, and their habitat’s protection.  i hope so!

i think 2014’s going to be a good year.  ::::)  all the best to you & yours!


you will be astonished to hear, no doubt, that in among the sea and jungle and sky photos… there are spiders!  not as many as i’d like, but i did see a few of these guys, and my new little point and shoot (thanks, dad!) did a pretty good job with them.  this is Gasteracantha sp., a ‘spiny’ orb weaver, apparently an invader of the hawaiian islands (or perhaps adventive?) and the subject of some taxonomic disagreement, since some sources call it G. mammosa while others consider it a synonym of G. cancriformis (of necklace fame).

anyway, the title of this edition is perhaps overly dramatic; the bishop museum of hawaii lists it as a ‘bad guy’ for being non-native (not clearly explained) and goes on to say that it’s more harmless than it looks, although i have also read that it will bite if the web is disturbed and may be poisonous.  others seeking online IDs have come up with similar info, and whichever species it is, it’s very interesting to look at.  the spiderlings are cute, too, although they don’t look much like their parents.  we tended to see them in large webs along the edges of sidewalks, and i was surprised at the spider’s smallish size given the span of the web — often the spider was right in the middle and looked like a small amorphous blob of detritus; that’s probably the point (no pun intended, i swear).

it was a little tricky to shoot these guys as the webs danced in the breeze, so i don’t have a huge number of images of them, but from what i saw they had lovely coloration and very interesting sculpture on the abdomen (both dorsal and ventral) and i’d love the chance to look at them more closely sometime.  alive, of course, not encased in a drop of acrylic!

a lot of my current web traffic (sorry) seems to be spider-related, so it’s only fitting that my 4ooth post be (of) arachnid(s) in nature.  spider on!


new beginnings

i realize that it looks like the sand people got us in the end, since we disappeared in the middle of death valley and have posted nothing in the intervening [wince] nearly three months.  oops.  all i can say is, my laptop died the blue-screen death, locking the remaining trip photos inside until recently, and with it perished my photo-processing software, so visual aids to the posts i’ve had in mind have been a little paralyzed.  add to that the fact that the pebbles and i will be joined by a small new human in june, and a semester-start with 1500 first-year students, and you get the idea — not as an excuse, but by way of an explanation.

but it’s time to begin 2012, however belatedly, as i have intended all along — with butterflies!

– – –

in our back yard, we have a large swan plant (Asclepias physocarpa), a species of milkweed that has become well established in nz, probably by dint of playing host to the beloved monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.  while neither is native, monarchs most likely colonized nz under their own steam, and were later assisted in becoming established by the increasing popularity of swan plants in gardens.  both seem to be well tolerated although i can’t find much information on the weed status of Asclepias.

in any case, we had some caterpillars last year, but only a few made it to adulthood due to a combination of wasp predation, aphid infestations and probably also a very fat praying mantis i discovered lurking under one of the leaves late in the season.  so this year, when i noticed tiny caterpillars starting to munch the swan leaves, i decided to bring a few inside for observation once they got larger, and hopefully save them from predation while enjoying some living-room science.  i selected a few nice fat ones a few weeks later, as well as some of the earliest chrysalises, and set them up in a small terrarium.

over the next few days, the ones i had brought in pupated obligingly, although i was amazed at the speed with which it happened — so quickly that i didn’t get a chance to photograph the metamorphosis, although a nice series can be seen here.  one in particular took up the telltale j-posture one evening, was still in it the following evening, and then had already changed into its smooth green chrysalis when i checked back an hour later, although still somewhat elongated and contracting gently.  i had not realized previously that the pupa forms inside the caterpillar skin; the latter splits open and peels back, falling as a tiny shriveled husk once the chrysalis emerges; this was one of several fascinating revelations i had while watching the process.  another was the gorgeous detail of the chrysalis structure — edged in black and iridescent gold, with the patterns of the future wings already visible as soon as the chryalis forms.  (apparently it’s not uncommon for pre-schoolers observing the monarch life cycle in new zealand to mistake the chrysalises for green lollies… an error i don’t imagine is often made more than once by any given child.  EW)

about two weeks later, my first butterfly hatched, again with astonishing speed: the chrysalis turned black and transparent overnight, was still whole first thing in the morning, and half an hour later had a trembling butterfly clinging to its emtpy membrane as the wings slowly filled.  we kept it inside until the wings appeared stiff and finished and the butterfly began to climb, and then took it outside to make its maiden flight and contribute to the next generation.  the remaining three followed over the next week, allowing me a good look at them as they hung to dry, but never actually emerging while i watched.  at last check, the swan plant still had new caterpillars appearing on it, although it is now mostly stem and strange seed pods, the voracious first generation having mostly decimated its leaves and the aphids busily finishing the rest.  but hopefully our monarch population will return each year, so we can share the amazing details of their transformations with our own next generation when it joins us.  :)

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while i am pulling together a few new webnesday posts, i wanted to share some links to very cool spider stuff that others have sent me recently.  first, there are these amazing microscopy images by igor siwanowicz, mostly of jumping spider eyes, but also of some very cool other arthropods and beasties.

Jumping spider - frontal section, anterior median eyes: lenses removed

then there are some other lovely macro shots of spiders and amblypygids by dylan van winkel, an article about beefy-legged spider cannibals (Palpimanus spp.),  and a nice gallery with accompanying info about a variety of cool spider studies.  and did you know that there’s a spider that spends its entire life underwater?!

i think you need some tarantula slippers.  (for dancing the tarantella?)

and finally, a lovely ‘find the spider’ photo over on krikit arts.

what day is it?  yes.  yes, it is.  and this is a one-photo edition — a photo that has been patiently waiting head-down in the middle of its web until tiny vibrations suggested that it was time to rush over here and jump out at you.  here it is:

my dad took this gorgeous shot in his back-yard in omaha.  she’s a species of Neoscona, possibly N. arabesca but more likely N. crucifera (also known in the past as N. hentzii) — a large, common orb-weaver, likely responsible for many of the large garden orb-webs people are most familiar with.  these webs are amazingly strong and sometimes trap rather large prey, but the spiders can handle it, and are apparently not only very good at repairing the damage (or recycling it), but also at utilizing very small prey.  i also learned from the famous forsters that orb-weavers can still construct their webs in outer space (see here and here — poor anita and arabella!), although it takes them a few tries to get used to it.  understandably.

we apparently have an occasional Neoscona species turn up in new zealand — N. orientalis, found all over australia and many other pacific islands.  the photo in the book is of a striking, fat-bodied spider with beautiful orange markings, apparently reaching 2cm in length (i want to see one!) but i can’t find much about this species online, so i wonder whether it has changed names.

look at those gorgeous bristles!  apparently their arrangement has taxonomic value, at least in males — see p. 497 of this article on Neoscona systematics.  i think i need a grad student to study spider taxonomy in nz.  anyone keen?  ::::)

once again, the stars have aligned (in a tiny 8-eyed formation, the way i imagine it) on webnesday.  this morning, one of my colleagues sailed into the office, announcing that she’d brought me a present — a large, newly dead Cambridgea foliata in a jar.  she assured me that she had found it dead in the driveway and was not responsible for its demise, and it looks pretty untouched — loooong legs curled serenely, biiiig jaws (another male) folded tidily.  i plan to have a good look at it under the microscope as soon as i get the chance — but not today.  (sorry, how much of a tease was that?!)  instead i can, in good conscience, continue in the theme of the US trip, with all the nice spiders i saw along the way.  as usual, there was a nice variety.  dad had started to scout them out for me even before i arrived, announcing that there was a nice orb weaver established near the cabin basement door.

he had even started to feed her.

(that last photo is his… i had to put it at the end because it’s better than all of mine.)  ;)

there were a few other pretty spectacular ones in and around the cabin, including an amazingly fat, glossy black one (same shape as the first one from last summer) with a red stripe, who had taken up residence, appropriately, in the shiny red canoe.   i took some photos of her but can’t find them, so i’ll come back and edit this if they turn up.  bumbly got startled by a large wolf spider scuttling out of a puzzle tube, and had the presence of mind to capture her for me; this proved to be one of the coolest spiders all summer, because she was just about to molt.  i’d never watched a spider molt before, and it was kind of amazing to see the soft body emerging from the old, perfect shell, and to watch her flex her legs as the new chitin hardened. 

in hindsight, the sieve was probably not the best photographic background, but she needed to be suspended from something while the molt was taking place.  oh well — i know for next time.  when she was finished, we tried the eye-shine trick with her (as with the other lycosid), and it worked — i just can’t get over the sparkly eyes!

we also found a couple of very cool spiders back at lester lake (more about this lake to follow) — lots of grass-spiders (Agelenopsis spp. — like this one), and one lovely little crab spider hiding in the clover.

to round things out, the zoo in omaha (where we went at the end of the trip) had a very cool exhibit on that included spiders from… hmm.   malaysia?  seems likely.  anyway, hanging in their gossamer webs high above the admiring (and/or squicked out) public were lots of our old friend Nephila.  one of the  keepers even brought one down so we could get a better look – man, they are amazing.

and that’s what i did with my summer vacation.  ::::)

so, it’s not webnesday, and i’m in the middle of reliving the voyageurs camping trip, but something important has come up — i have a confession to make.  ready?

i have found a spider that gives me the creeps, just a little.

well, maybe more than a little.  maybe it makes me distinctly edgy.  maybe, on some deeply suppressed level, it actually freaks me the f— out.

you know how we just moved into a new house (ok, about a month ago now)?  i am excited for the spider-watching opportunities this house has to offer.  basement, several under-stair storage areas, garden, garage.  i have already seen at least one nice spider in the garage that i don’t recognize and will need to investigate.

then there’s the shed.

the previous owners were kind enough to leave us some very useful things in the shed — wicker trellises, chicken wire, plant pots, and some other things under a blue tarp that i have not checked out yet (perhaps the subject of an additional story, depending what i find).  in all seriousness, these people left the house immaculate and anything they did leave behind has been useful, in good condition and very much appreciated.  going by their track record, the tarp could conceivably be hiding a golden goose.  i was actually thinking of taking a look under it today, but i got distracted.

the shed is liberally draped in cobwebs, inside and out.  some cute little black spiders have tucked themselves into the outside grooves, and i imagine that many of the more densely cluttered webs actually belonged to long-obsolete inhabitants.  when i peeked into the shed shortly after we moved in, i did see some very long legs tucked into one of the upper corners, and was excited to take a closer look when i got the chance.

well, this afternoon i was out pottering in the garden — pulling weeds here, repotting plants there, conducting small archaeological digs under the shrubbery.  and i needed something from the shed.  as i approached, trowel in hand, i got the distinct feeling i was being watched.

bonus points if you noticed malinky, the neighbors’ burmese cat, in the photo above.

she likes to sit up next to the shed like a silver ghost, and she was particularly watchful today, since our cat (who has apparently become bulimic) was barfing up his latest grass snack on the lawn behind me.  and few cats do disapproval as well as malinky.

so, i was talking to her, making excuses for my own cat’s incompetence and resulting retching, as i opened the shed door and noted that a fresh gauzy web had been spun across the entrance and the pile of garden junk i needed to dig through.  i used the trowel to sweep the new strands aside, noticing as i did so that there was a large spider molt curled up in the upper shed corner, which i hoped to get a better look at later.  and it’s lucky i was watching that corner, because the former inhabitant (presumably) of the molt rushed out as i brushed the web aside, and i mean rushed. out.  as in, it came charging down the web, fangs flashing and eerily long pedipalps waving madly.  this spider has easily a three-, maybe a four-inch (10cm) legspan, and it was making a beeline for a disturbance made by a human with a trowel.  as a fairly seasoned spider-teaser, i can tell you that most spiders are fairly wise to fake disturbances to their webs, and if you are too vigorous with the decoy, they won’t come out.  not this one though — it was ready for battle with whatever giant insect it thought it might be feeding on for, oh, the next year.

well, i was mildly startled (there are no witnesses except malinky, and she’s sworn to secrecy, so i can say what i like), but also, of course, fascinated, so i went for my new camera with the nice macro.  and i went in a hurry, because chances were good that the spider would have retreated by the time i got back.

but oooooh no.  not only was it still there, hanging at perfect ease in the middle of the shed — it stayed there while i photographed it, with flash, from distances down to about two inches away.  if the photo composition is not ideal, it’s because i was poised for flight the whole time and fully conscious that i was within legs’ reach, should the beast turn on me.  and maybe my hands were trembling a little.  and maybe they weren’t.  i’m used to big spiders, but i am not used to big spiders that have no apparent aversion to close human contact.  also, i am used to females being larger than males, and i’m pretty sure this one is male.  you do the math.  (there is a lovely photo of a female here, but no indication of size).

once i had captured sufficient proof of this monster’s existence, i decided to check the actual extent of the web.  i believed i was dealing with a species of native Cambridgea (perhaps C. foliata), a sheet-web spider, the largest of which often build webs up to at least a meter square.  and plucking at the strands near the door (with a long blade of grass, for safety reasons) did, in fact, make the spider bounce.  so did plucking at some of the strands outside the door, leading to the fence.  this spider seems to be the king of town — a town that covers the entire back corner of the garden.  i did cast my eye over the other corners of the shed for any other candidates, but that meant turning my back on the one i most definitely did not want climbing onto, say, my head — the one that was still bobbing gently and still not retreating.  the one that seemed just bolshy enough to actually climb onto a person’s head.  the one that is still hanging in the middle of the shed, some 90 minutes later, waiting for me to screw up the courage to poke around its lair.

i think i’ll call it aragog.

afterword: the forsters discuss Cambridgea’s trapping strategy in fairly complete detail.  above the large sheet-web hangs a network of individual threads that act as a baffle and cause blundering insects to fall down onto the main web.  the spider then rushes out (confirmed!) and bites the prey with what venom that is ‘extremely effective as even large insects succumb in a few seconds.’ comforting.

every once in a while i like to dedicate webnesday to audience participation – the cool spiders and associated stories, photos and stuff that people have sent/given me or alerted me to.  webnesday thrives on these, so thanks to everyone who has contributed – 8-legged hugs to all of you!  since christmas (and the last time i posted about my spider stuff), i’ve been accumulating a nice collection of, hmm, arachnidiana? … and tucking away useful photos and links for later, so let’s get started!
first, in the interweb category, a few pretty spectacular news stories have turned up.  there’s this artistic giant tunnel-web made of packing tape, for one.  there’s also this wicked gallery of spider robots (with videos!) from wired.com.
in the photo submissions category, a friend sent me the two spiders below – his cousin (k. bache) shot these beauties while traveling in siem reap.

Nephila pilipes 1
i was pretty sure of the genus on this one, since it looked like other Nephila species i’d featured here before (N. clavata from japan, and this one – not for the faint of heart!).  the pattern on the abdomen identified it as N. pilipes – here’s a closer look.

Nephila pilipes 2
the second spider was a little trickier to ID, but the zig-zag bands in the web helped tremendously.

turns out they’re characteristic of the genus Argiope, and are called stabilimenta.  they reflect UV light and may function at least partially to make the web visible to large, blundering animals (like us) that might otherwise walk through it and ruin the spider’s hard work.  a few other genera also make them (including my friend Gasteracantha), although not quite like this.
this little guy and his attached red mite came from my dad, at the lake in northern mn.  no idea about an ID yet, but i’ll keep an eye out for him and his cousins while i’m there in a few weeks!

moving on to the arachno-goodies category, 2010 has been a good year for spider items (spidems?).  i got a swatch of this sparkly fabric in my christmas stocking:

and was given this cleverly crafted bead-spider by tomboy:

and then lucked out myself, in finding this irresistible brooch (complete with jeweled knees!).

the color didn’t show up so well, but the sparklies are three shades of green, fading along the length of the abdomen.  it’s one of my favorite accessories at the moment.
and finally, although i cannot claim to actually have this in my possession, here is a beast that occasionally parks outside our house (belonging to a friend of the neighbors’) – a porsche spyder.  that would probably make my little collection complete enough to get out of the business all together… so let’s hope i never get one.  seems pretty unlikely anyway  ;)

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some weeks, this feature pretty much writes itself.  last week’s katipo was inspired by current events, but rarely has a specific webnesday subject presented itself as irrepressibly as this one.
back in march, we did a lovely five-hour hike along the west coast of auckland, north of the waitakere ranges, which will be the subject of a separate post with many more photos.  one of the things we – well, maybe i, and the others mostly from the fact that i kept stopping to take photos – noticed was the great abundance of nursery-webs in the shrubs.  the webs look like this, and really did appear in astonishing density.

according to the forsters, these are the nursery-webs of Dolomedes minor (family Pisauridae), close relatives of the forest-and-stream-dwelling D. aquaticus and ‘D. species III’ earlier featured here (actually, i just discovered that i never got around to ‘D. species III’ – stay tuned!).  they mention that the females, after carrying their large egg-sacs around for about five weeks, construct these tents for the spiderlings to hatch into (actually, they hatch inside the egg-sac about a week before the web is built, but remain within it until contained within the nursery-web).  the females then remain with the webs for a further week, hiding somewhere below during the day but often on the web itself at night and visible by flashlight (how i wanted to take this hike again with a flashlight… !).
imagine my surprise, then, when over the past weekend, on another walk on the central plateau, a pristine nursery-web caught my eye and proved occupied, in broad daylight!

i suspect that this female may have been lured into the open by the prospect of a large meal, although i couldn’t get close enough to tell who her hapless dinner had been (other than an almost equally large spider).  in any case, i was very excited to be able to pair up these D. minor photos with the web-photos from the earlier walk.
and then the pebbles sent me an email from work, saying that one of his colleagues had found an enormous spider in his laptop bag (thanks, allan!) and that another colleague had trapped it – in her cupped hands, no less – and saved it for me (thanks, nat!).  they tentatively identified it as ‘nursery-web,’ and sure enough… look who it was.

isn’t she stunning?  i can’t really explain what she was doing in a computer bag, but i’m very glad she turned up there, particularly since the pebbles’ colleagues are both kind-spirited and well aware of my arachnophilia.  :)  after her photo session, and after turning down a large dinner offering (not sure whether she was just tired of being in a box, or not hungry, or whether the offering was perhaps a bit too big – it went to feed my sister’s axolotls in the end), she was released into our garden under cover of darkness.  i followed her explorations with a flashlight for a few minutes (recommended by the forsters, after all), and was amazed to see that when she was facing the light, even from a distance of 1-2 meters, i could see pinpricks of light reflecting from her eyes.  i had read about a similar effect in lycosids (“torchlight is reflected by a special layer of crystalline cells called a tapetum at the back of their eyes,” p. 81), but while not actually discounting it, had wanted to see it sometime for myself.  and i have to say, seeing spider eyes glowing in the dark ranks pretty high on the list of cool spider revelations that webnesday has brought me in its time.  here are a few more parting pics:

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