Recently in spiders Category

Stop the Presses


The boys and I just returned from a truly fun-filled wildlife-a-plenty trip to Florida, and you'd think I'd jump right in and start showing you photos. But no -- first I have to show off some of the gorgeous blooms that welcomed us home. But no again, because oh my gosh I found something cool in the backyard while wandering around looking at blossoms. This creature of such colossal awesomeness must be given absolute priority in wildlife garden blogging. And here it is.


Yes, I can already hear your response. Something, I'm sure, along the lines of "What the blazes is THAT?" And perhaps there's a part of you also saying, "Geez, Meredith is so very weird." But,my friends, I must introduce you to this amazing creature -- it is known as a trashline orbweaver spider. Can you find the spider?

Take another look:


Lo and behold, a spider I only learned about just last Saturday is right here in our backyard!

A trashline orbweaver spider has a very unique way of camouflaging itself. It creates a line of insect remains and other debris stuck together with silk. Then it sits right in the center and blends in, making it hard for birds to notice it and also staying well hidden from unsuspecting but potentially tasty insect passersby.

It was incredibly windy outside, so it was near impossible to get a sharp image of a bobbing spider on a bobbing spider web, but here's a zoom-in on the spider.


After such a treasure of a find, does it really matter that my Crossvines are producing the most spectacular display of color ever?

crossvine03-19-12.jpg They are climbing up and over the shade sails, as they please.

whitehoneysuckle03-19-12.jpgDoes it really matter that the Texas native White Honeysuckle shrub, Lonicera albiflora, is covered in divinely fragrant blossoms?

coralhoneysuckle03-19-12.jpgOr that its cousin, the native Coral Honeysuckle, is perhaps at last displaying its full glory, climbing thickly to the top of the fence with its intense red blooms ever so vibrant against the dense green foliage?

frmimosa03-19-12.jpgWould one notice the pink and puffy blossoms of the Fragrant Mimosa?

And look at this:

pomegranatebud03-19-12.jpgA single Pomegranate bud waiting to open. Let's hope that more buds will emerge very soon, else I won't have much hope of Pomegranates this fall.

bfdaisies03-19-12.jpgWhat about the Blackfoot Daisies, twice as big as when I planted them before our trip?

Yes, of course -- they all matter!

buckmothcat03-19-12.jpgEven this Buckmoth caterpillar, which thankfully I didn't step on with my bare foot (I can still remember the painful sting from the caterpillar that found my foot last year), is a welcome sight in my yard. Though the caterpillar might be a stinging kind, it (or its flying adult form) is a potential food source for birds or bats or owls. Therefore, it matters, too!

Wrapping Up the Year


Well, it's the end of 2010, and since my garden is in a rather dreary state of dormancy, and the dogs are doing their annual running amok in the cooler temperatures and wreaking havoc on the entire backyard, I thought I'd end the year with some fun with my new close-up filters and a spider species new to my yard. The close-up filters are an inexpensive way to get a bit of a macro effect without breaking the bank on a new lens.

I found this little lady on a web outside my bedroom window.

  neosconacruciferaa12-30-10.jpgI believe she is a Neoscona crucifera, also known as a Hentz Orbweaver. They seem to be fairly common in central Texas -- a lot of the online photos I found came from this region. I can't help but stare at her hairiness. She might not win the hairiest spider award, but she's right up there in my book.

  neosconacruciferad12-30-10.jpgIt was utterly fascinating watching her go after one of my pest bugs. How on earth did that bug just happen to end up in the web while I stood nearby with my camera? Remarkable timing, right? I know!


So here's what I observed. First, Mrs. Spider ran over fast and paralyzed the bug -- she was so fast I didn't witness the bite, but in a fraction of a second, the bug went from squirming to still.

neosconacruciferag12-30-10.jpgThen Mrs. Spider made a hole in her web. I'm not sure the purpose of this -- did she use the web strands on her prey? Did she remove them in preparation for easy spinning of the bug? If I were to guess, she moved the sticky threads out of her way. Notice that while she was doing this, her spinnerets began producing more silk.

And then the spider simultaneously began maneuvering the paralyzed bug and wrapping it in a widened sheath of silk. 

neosconacruciferae12-30-10.jpgI watched in astonishment as the spider expertly swayed her abdomen side to side to thoroughly guide the silk over all parts of the bug. A true weaver at work! Look closely:


During the process, the spider paused and extended her fang into the body. I assume that at this point she is injecting the prey with digestive enzymes to liquify the bug's insides. Perhaps she was already feasting. Anyone want to ask her?

neosconacruciferah12-30-10.jpgThen she went back to wrapping up the bug some more.


Once the spider was content with her packaging job, she slid the wrapped bug over to a new spot and secured it. The move was amazingly smooth.

I was curious whether the spider would be interested in a second bug or just ignore it. She was interested, that's for sure! She zoomed across the web to start the process anew.


Here's a sequence of shots from her second kill -- she was kind enough to give me the view from the front this time.

neosconacruciferak12-30-10.jpg neosconacruciferal12-30-10.jpg neosconacruciferam12-30-10.jpg neosconacruciferan12-30-10.jpg neosconacruciferao12-30-10.jpg

It was really challenging to get shots that were in focus -- between the spider's busy movements and the wind, the web bounced quite a bit. I think this is a downside to the close-up filters -- they don't seem to handle movement well. Still, they are fun to play with!

I assume that this spider will lay her eggs soon -- juveniles tend to be nocturnal, and this adult was quite central on her web during the day, mostly likely getting additional nutrients for that final project. I'll have to keep a lookout for babies!

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm so glad for all my gardening, wildlife, and blog friends. 2010 has been such a great year -- I can't wait to see what 2011 will bring. Apparently it will at least bring spider babies!

The Wandering Cassanova


That might be a trick title. You've been warned. Even if only briefly.

A couple of days ago my neighbor called me excitedly to tell me about what she'd saved from her ever-naughty cat. "It's a big tarantula!" she said. Well, I'm all for saving tarantulas (and I was secretly jealous that the tarantula wasn't in my own yard -- I live for those kinds of discoveries).

txbrowntarantulaa09-20-10.jpgMy friend brought the tarantula right over. It's a Texas Brown Tarantula, and its dark coloration is a pretty fair clue that this guy is, well, a guy. Male Texas Browns get those dark colors as they complete their final molt toward sexual maturity, and then it's off to the races! They will wander long distances until they find a lady friend, and I'm pretty sure that's what this handsome, hairy guy was doing until that ever-naughty cat noticed it. By the way, Mr. Tarantula was completely unharmed. The cat's ego might have suffered some, however, when my neighbor threw her keys at it to get it away from the spider.

txbrowntarantulad09-20-10.jpgIsn't this tarantula GORGEOUS? Just look at those pretty eyes. Simply hypnotic.

txbrowntarantulab09-20-10.jpgWhen we realized that the tarantula had probably been wandering in search of a female, we knew we wanted to let it continue on his way. Apparently males only live for a few months after they reach sexual maturity, and we wanted our guy to have a chance at getting a girlfriend. However, we invited it to stay a couple of days at our home so that my son could show it to his classmates this morning at school. And we offered it a few juicy grasshoppers -- apparently it chose the largest, a brown one. The green ones had to endure a couple of days of sheer terror.

txbrowntarantulaf09-20-10.jpgNow, I must tell you a little about the Texas Brown Tarantula. First of all, don't be scared. They can get big, yes (this guy had about a 5-inch leg span). But they are not aggressive, and that's why so many people keep them as pets. Even if they were to bite, probably due to the human's fault, it wouldn't be more than like a bee sting. No, the only two spiders in Texas that we ever worry about are the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow Spider. Tarantulas, they are just lovable furry creatures.  

txbrowntarantulac09-20-10.jpgI don't know whether Texas has a state spider, but the giant Texas Brown Tarantula fits right in with any number of our "Big" mottos (We grow 'em big in Texas; Go big or go home; Everything's big in Texas; and so forth).

txbrowntarantulae09-20-10.jpgThe spider was quite calm and nonchalant throughout its stay, and when we released it, it just started up its traveling once again -- in no hurry, just at a nice steady pace. I love watching the way it moves its legs.

txbrowntarantulag09-20-10.jpgIt walked right past a toad (the tarantula was larger than the toad, in fact) and began crawling up the fence. Never stopped (boy, that toad did, however). Just climbed right over, and right back down the other side. Good luck, Cassanova!


Trekking Through the Roughs


roughse09-05-10.jpgYesterday morning our hiking crew of friends and family visited McKinney Roughs Nature Center, an LCRA park near Bastrop in Central Texas. Not to be confused with McKinney Falls State Park, the Roughs is home to 18 miles of pleasant hiking trails that take one through peaceful woodlands, past wildflower meadows, and along the scenic Colorado River.

The park is located where four distinct ecological regions converge: East Texas Pineywoods, Riparian, Blackland Prairies, and Post Oak Savannah, and these regions can seem to suddenly switch on you as you walk along the trails. I think of three words when I picture my time at McKinney Roughs -- "beauty," "solitude," and "wildlife." Birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, spiders, turtles, mammals -- everywhere you turn, you either see wildlife, or you see evidence of it. Wildflowers line the paths, vines climb the trees, and sunlight filters through the trees to highlight shrubs or snags or other interesting elements of nature.

A little anole welcomed us at the front gate, though he did hang out among some thorns. Good for him.


Up at the visitor's center, spectacular flowers and berrying-plants provide a colorful scene, alive with zooming hummingbirds, busy bees, and fluttering butterflies. The building in the photo is the Natural Science Center, closed except for educational purposes, but all about the grounds, demonstration gardens teach visitors about native plants, wildscaping, and water conservation through rain collection. There's even a tepee to sit in. And the visitor's center itself holds large aquariums and terrariums, with all sorts of live creatures inside. So much to do, and so much to learn.

roughsn09-05-10.jpg roughso09-05-10.jpg

If all that wasn't enough, McKinney Roughs offers even more-- nature programs for youths, dorms for groups, stargazing and kayaking programs, and vertical challenge courses, including a climbing tower.

roughsr09-05-10.jpgBut the park trails are truly the "diamonds in the Roughs." They are well made and easy to traverse. Dogs on leashes are allowed, as are horses. It says something good about a park when people bring their horses from across the state to take them on the trails.

roughszd09-05-10.jpgWe chose about a 5-mile route, traveling on several connecting trails. The paths took us through all four ecological regions, letting us see quite a variety of plant species and terrain. Pine needles in portions reminded us when we were in the pocket of isolated hardwoods known as "Lost Pines."


The paths took us to overlooks and valleys, dry creek beds and the river, and through woods and meadows, but always the trail was well defined and constructed, particularly whenever a slope was present.

roughszl09-05-10.jpg roughszm09-05-10.jpgAnt lions left little pits in the sand along the paths.

roughszc09-05-10.jpgAll around were plants I'd never seen before, and I realized that while I can identify many native species, it was clear I had a lot more to learn. But many of my favorites were around.

Like American Beautyberry...


Texas Persimmon, with its beautiful peeling bark...


Inland Sea Oats, with seeds in transition from green to brown, and so many others.


While I could identify this next plant as a bird-friendly Pokeweed due to its very dark red berries, I didn't know much about it, so I looked it up. Turns out it's very dangerous to mammals, sometimes even lethal -- so don't eat it. This is a time where the saying "You eat like a bird" best NOT apply.


Another new one for me -- this appears to be Tall Gayfeather, also known as Tall Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. The stalk was indeed so tall that it needed the support of a younger plant.


And this is Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea. Thank goodness it didn't have different colored seeds -- I might not have ever identified it otherwise. Not surprisingly, those beans are toxic.


It was hard to resist taking pictures of all the wildlife we saw. And ohhhh, we saw a lot. What a joy to experience nature at its best.

Near the visitor's center, this Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly worked really hard to make it as difficult as possible for me to take a picture of it, but I finally got one. It's on Pride of Barbados -- not a true native, but a sun-loving wildlife-friendly neighbor from the south. 


Well, actually I did get two photos. I believe this is another Pipevine Swallowtail, though its markings are less vibrant. It's on Tropical Milkweed.

roughsv09-05-10.jpgIt was pretty neat to see so many different species of Swallowtails all in the same vicinity. Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


And a good old-fashioned Black Swallowtail on Texas Lantana.

roughsz09-05-10.jpgNearby, a Gulf Fritillary drank from a Turk's Cap.

roughsq09-05-10.jpgOff in the woods, a pollinator favorite was Shrubby Boneset, or White Mistflower. Bees and butterflies all flocked to it.


roughss09-05-10.jpg Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Female, a dark morph.


And, of course, the Mistflower-loving Queen.

roughsu09-05-10.jpgBut Mistflower wasn't the only plant the pollinators loved.

roughsd09-05-10.jpg roughsf09-05-10.jpgSolitary wasps collected nectar and pollen, as well. This digger wasp is a wonderful predator of grasshoppers and katydids. I wish it lived at my house.

roughsg09-05-10.jpg This black-and-white wasp is a Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens.

roughsh09-05-10.jpgDown at the river, we soaked our feet in the cool flowing waters.

roughsza09-05-10.jpgWe weren't alone -- fishing birds fished, bumblebees bumbled. And damselflies joined us at the water's edge, often resting on our feet and toes. This American Ruby Spot stood out among the more common blue-bodied damsels.

roughsx09-05-10.jpg That's just the perfect shade of green on its body to go with the red on its wings.

  roughszb09-05-10.jpgA water bug army showed off surface tension physics at its finest.

roughsb09-05-10.jpgWe lingered awhile at the river, taking the time to rest and eat a few snacks. Then it was back on the trail.

Occasionally we had to dodge and duck under cobwebs that stretched across paths. But with them we sometimes found beautiful spiders, many of them orange Spiny-Backed Orb Weavers. But the larger garden spiders stole the show, I'm afraid. Big, beautiful, and very, very still. This lovely lady is an Argiope aurantia. She posed for many views. Interestingly, her web also held a male spider (missing one leg) and several baby Argiope spiders. It really surprised me that she would be so tolerant of other spiders on her web. Well, perhaps not so tolerant of the male, obviously...


roughsj09-05-10.jpg The view of her underside looks enough like the parasitic Alien facehugger to give even me the creeps. But she's utterly fascinating -- look at the way she positions herself on her own web strands. Do you see the tension she holds on select threads? Poised and ready to nab any creature who foolishly gets too close to her web...


Argiope aurantia has another name than just Garden Spider. It's also known as the Writing Spider, named for the zig-zags it makes in its webs, seen in this view of a different female.

roughsl09-05-10.jpgNot to be outdone, other spiders at the Roughs created spectacular tunnel webs and dense webs that seemed almost like blankets.


At last we made it back to the visitor's center, finishing our trip with a tour of the aquariums and terrariums. And after our hike, we enjoyed a late lunch at the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Great food. I had to skip dinner, I was so full. 

McKinney Roughs has become one of my favorite parks in Texas. I'm so glad it's close to Austin, as I know we'll enjoy going back. Next time we'll be sure to take our dogs with us. If you are in the vicinity, it's a trip worthwhile.


Closer, please.


The human eye really isn't designed to notice things like this. I certainly didn't at first, not until I was up close, clipping off of few dead Gregg's Mistflower stems here and there. Even then, at first I thought it was just plant bits caught in an old web. That is, I did... until the plant bits started to move.

babyspiders08-15-10.jpgBabies! Could these be the young of my resident Argiope spider, who made her happy home in my Gregg's Mistflower ? 

To quote Hannibal Lecter, "Closer, please."

babyspidersb08-15-10.jpg"Clo-ser..." babyspidersc08-15-10.jpg

Little spiders, the world is more interesting with you in it.

Content Again


My initial shock and dismay over the vast destruction laid to my Cinnamon Sun sunflowers and Zexmenia by millions and gazillions of caterpillars all at one time were fortunately temporary emotions, and I've adjusted to this new level of habitat. I'm back to feeling happy, content, and utterly pleased. The butterflies fluttering about the garden today are more numerous than I'd ever dreamed of (I'm still astounded by this, I admit), and they swept me up in waves of joy and peace. Soon, all those hundreds of ravenous Bordered Patch caterpillars that caused me momentary freak-out will create an even more amazing butterfly scene -- who can argue with that?

So I won't dwell on the skeleton leaves and plant carcasses they are leaving behind and I will instead rejoice in the fact that most of the plants so far are surviving and putting on a beautiful bloom display -- 30 blooms almost entirely on one Cinnamon Sun plant alone. I get to report on new butterflies in the garden, as well, and also bees and spiders, and this habitat mama is happy as a clam.

If ever there was a question about sunflowers being so aptly named, I present this photo as a clear argument for the appropriateness. It shows the fiery side of the sun in flower form. In fact, I almost named this post Sunrise or Sunset after this shot, because that's what it makes me think of, but I actually took this in the middle of the day, so it would be cheating.


As I hovered around my sunflowers, alternating between pictures of blooms and caterpillar damage, I was joined by hummingbirds just a few feet away at the Standing Cypress, flying closer to me than ever and completely ignoring me. I missed the snapshot, though, because the two hummingbirds suddenly had one of their feisty spats and flew off. I'm not sure they even realized how close to me they were.

And then I saw the bees at the sunflowers, and my attention turned back to the fiery blazes before me. These weren't honeybees -- they were "Yellow Butt Bees" as I called them when I first saw them (Please don't think that's their real name! I was just distinguishing them from the similarly-sized honeybees we all know. Besides, perhaps "Yellow Belly" would be more appropriate; I can hear Yosemite Sam now calling them Yellow-bellied Varmints... except they are no varmints!). The best I could do was try to get some pictures in the poor light so that I could ID them later. I believe they are the species Megachile perihirta. Western Leafcutter Bees. Texas natives, woot.

cinnsunbeeb07-05-10.jpg Why are they called Leafcutter Bees? Well, they cut small little circles out of leaves and use the pieces to fashion little nest cells, adding to them some nectar and pollen for the eggs they'll lay. These solitary bees are some of the bees that benefit from Bee Boxes.

cinnsunbeec07-05-10.jpgAt one point, one of the bees looked straight at me. The little bee looks so cute that it seems unreal -- my son actually thought I stuck the bee image onto the photo. I like to think that it was posing for the camera and not considering me a momentary threat. In any case, it was cute enough to become a header shot for the blog page (scroll up and click refresh if you'd like to see it).


At the same time as their larger cousins, tinier native bees were also busy at work. They are harder to see, crawling in and out of the little flower parts.

cinnsunbeed07-05-10.jpg cinnsunbeee07-05-10.jpgThese native bees are the best pollinators a garden could ask for. Hugs to them all.

Back at the Gregg's Mistflower in the Spider's Favorite Locale, a spider reigns queen predator. I believe she is a Banded Garden Spider, Argiope trifasciata. And I think she might be the very same spider I found in the same spot a couple of weeks ago, perhaps then a juvenile and now mature (I've edited that post). She's a beauty, and highly successful in her predator talents. She had four wrapped-up carcasses that she was very focused on, and within hours she had consumed them, removed them, and repaired the web, ready for more.

She's as beautiful on her upper exterior...

  bandedgardenspidera07-04-10.jpgas she is underneath. In fact, I shot the picture below first before I even realized she was facing away from me.

bandedgardenspiderb07-04-10.jpgI spy what might be pollen seeping through the silk encasing -- might that be another bee? Gah. The nature of nature, once again.

To follow up on the Bordered Patch butterflies, I'm happy to report that they do eat Straggler Daisy, or Horseherb. In fact, there are already other groups of them out there munching away. The ones in the picture below are a little too small for me to identify for sure as Bordered Patch, but they are surely related, at the very least.

caterpillarsonhorseherb07-04-10.jpgI took a few of the more severely devasted sunflower leaves still covered with tons of caterpillars and relocated the little crawlies to the Horseherb for a dietary change, and so far so good. There are still many dozens on the sunflowers, but I feel better about all the plants' chances at this point. And as I mentioned last time, I've got plenty of Horseherb to go around. I also discovered even more groups of young caterpillars on the Zexmenia, but those plants are fairly well established and are thus on their own. I read that one Bordered Patch female can lay 500 eggs -- now I understand why I have such an invasion of munching munchers.

The older caterpillars are looking quite interesting, now that they are getting large.

borderedpatchcat07-05-10.jpgHmmm. Another caterpillar discovery. I have Genista moth caterpillars munching on one of my Texas Mountain Laurels, and eggs on another. But from what I read, the laurels should be okay. There are so many mountain laurels here in Austin, Texas, and they all do okay, right? The damage is ugly, though, but not devastating. I think. Hmmm, I feel the inkling of worry again...

genistacaterpillars07-04-10.jpg   genistacaterpillarb07-04-10.jpgI'm not sure whether these are Genista eggs, but I suspect they could be.

eggsonmountainlaurel07-04-10.jpgWhile I was walking around outside, something large moving by caught my eye. At first I thought it was a bird, but then I realized it was a butterfly. From a distance I couldn't tell whether it was a Giant Swallowtail or an Eastern Tiger, but it was definitely huge. And then it came down right by me for a nectar feast on the butterfly bush. An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Yay!


It's the first time one has stayed still long enough for me to get a non-blurry picture. The sun was too harsh, but I'll take what I can get. I continue to have a wary eye on the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii, a non-native with a questionable reputation), but it earned big points when that Eastern Tiger landed upon it.

easterntigerb07-05-10.jpgI'm still waiting on my Giants to emerge from their chrysalises. I'm getting nervous, as I always do. 

Buckeyes are here now! New visitors to the garden. So beautiful.

buckeye07-04-10.jpgAnd I still can't resist the charm of the Cinnamon Sun sunflowers. More pictures must be posted.

cinnsunc07-5-10.jpg cinnsunb07-5-10.jpg

cinnsund07-5-10.jpgSee what I mean?

I Should Apologize Now For All My "Cinns"


I might as well apologize now, because it's just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it's about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open... and they are much more accessible.

  cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.


cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black -- in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I'd made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat's a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too -- but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.


But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I'm impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house...


I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder -- like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg's Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it's a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I'd go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that's a plus for the spider -- if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web -- a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that's moving and spinning and wrapping its prey -- what a challenge!


spiderb06-24-10.jpg spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider -- it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I'm sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let's go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower... well, preferably without the spider there, too.


BogeyMan Freak Out


There's very little in nature that disturbs me. I can watch with fascination the way predators stalk their prey, study the little bones left behind in owl pellets, and look at snotty-faced hogs like they're as cute as bunnies.

I adore spiders, all of them.

greenlynx09-17-09.jpgIt would never occur to me to kill one, unless my family was in danger from a venomous one. Some of them make such beautiful webs -- incredible works of art and science and skill all rolled into one, though to the spider it's a just a normal way of life. I've walked into more webs and had more spiders in my big mass of hair than I care to admit, but I still love them.

web06-05-10.jpgI could cuddle with the biggest of snakes.

snake06-05-10.jpgI'd probably prefer not to have to outrun a taipan or to fall flat on my face in front of a rattler, but that's life or death -- and that's different. I guess I'm not a fan of ticks, either, but then who would be? They carry terrible diseases and suck your BLOOD. But they don't invoke fear in me. Not that feeling of panic that makes you shriek and want to flee far away. Well, there was that time in a deer grove near Uvalde that I looked down to see hundreds of ticks crawling onto my shoes -- I'll say that I did stare for a moment with fascination before doing the big "Get These Terrible Ticks Off Me" dance. None managed to reach my skin, thank goodness. 

I study flies and bees and slugs with equal amazement. Animal carcasses you find on a trail? Gross, yes, but the stink would drive me away before the sight would.

People say bats, and I run outside with a camera. I love the feel of slimy earthworms in my hand. I've been stung by a scorpion and lived to tell the tale. I've dealt with wasp hives and hornets and learned to appreciate the creepy-crawling of the zillion-legged centipede. I'd curl up with a lion if it wouldn't eat me.


But there is a creature that gets to me. Perhaps that's a poor way to word it.

The freak-out creature for me used to be a roach. I still remember the horror from my childhood of waking up in my room in the middle of the night, freaky shadows cast on the walls by oleanders outside the louver windows, their leaves and branches swaying eerily in the strong wind. In a moonlit spot on the wall, I saw a dark spot, and as my eyes adjusted I realized it was a the biggest roach I'd ever seen (and living in Corpus Christi at the time, I was no stranger to roaches). But this one was clearly the Big Bad Brown Roach from Dark Forces of Evil, and it was watching me. I could feel its little eyes staring at me from across the room.

moonb03-29-10.jpgI stayed as still as I could, trying to muster the nerve to call out for my mom, or better yet flee. But it held me trapped by its dark gaze, long antennas wiggling all around, and I'd never felt such an intense moment in all the five years of my life. And instinctively I knew something was about to happen, and I grabbed the edge of my blanket in my hands just as that giant roach flew across the room directly at me. FLEW! I had never seen one fly, but this sucker did, and my screams of terror from under my blanket must have woken up the whole neighborhood and probably utterly panicked my poor mother who had to find out what was torturing and trying to kill her youngest daughter.

My grandmother's house had lots of roaches. Little ones and big ones. Driven by that roach's attack on my childhood innocence, I went after them with a vengeance whenever I was visiting and saw them. By the way, I can slap a mosquito with the best of them. Grandmother had an infestation of crickets, too, but I could tolerate them somewhat. That reminds me of the year of the grasshoppers, when swarms of giant grasshoppers covered northern Texas, and they'd fly at us across the water when we tried to go sailing, a big white target for long-legged flying green grasshoppers. Shudder. I remember my stepmother shrieking over and over again while holding up a big towel to keep them from landing on her. A few years later, it was the year of the crickets, and stores had to sweep them out by the thousands onto the sidewalks and streets. They'd make a wall look black as they crawled up the sides.


In a biology lab in college, I once had to dissect a live roach. Not those flat little scurrying things we all find to be pests from time to time. No, this was one of those big fat roaches from the southern U.S., Georgia as I recall. We had to basically dismantle it body part by body part, including the fat globs of marshmallow creme, until it was nothing but head and gut tract -- and it was still alive! Its little jaws just gnawed away. THIS is why roaches will outlive humans by millions of years.

In case you are wondering, I was a Zoology major in college. We weren't given a choice about dissecting things, and I won't list them all here. But the scientist side of me took care of business, and really, the internal organs were just as fascinating as the animals themselves. Bodies in general are works of wonder. Beyond that, I tried not to think too much about what I was doing. 

I do recall the Giant Rat in high school. One night I was closing the curtains on our louver windows (I will NEVER willingly have louver windows in my adulthood, given the horrors they bring) when I saw a fat scaly tail hanging from the curtain where the drawstrings were. MOM! A giant rat! Neither of us wanted to try to get it out of there, and it wasn't budging on its own, and all we could see was that terrible tail dangling. So we decided to leave the door to the garage open to give it a chance to leave on its own (it probably came in through there). And we went to bed. Next thing I knew, my mom was nudging me awake, whispering that the giant rat was in her room. Why on earth she left her bedroom door partly ajar with such a monstrosity loose in the house, I'll never know. This time we went in with brooms in hand, ready to defend against and drive out the small intruder with giant freaky tail. It turns out that it wasn't a rat, neither giant nor little, but the cutest little baby possum (sharp teeth and all), and it was just as scared as we were. We gently helped it outside.

But while I might squeal at the sudden scurries of little mice or the unexpected appearance of a snake around a corner, none of it disturbs me, and my reaction turns fast to interest. But the creature of all creatures to utterly unnerve me is this. The Harvestman. The Bogeyman, if you ask me.

harvestmana06-05-10.jpgSome people call them daddy longlegs, or granddaddy longlegs. But whatever you call them, don't call them spiders. Because that's what they are NOT.

The harvestman is an arachnid, yes, but not a spider. Its body segments are closely joined to seem fused into a single oval.

harvestmanb06-05-10.jpgAnd they've got those freakily long legs. If they just stayed still, I could MAYBE get used to them. But... 

harvestmand06-05-10.jpgThe way they bob up and down and quiver as they walk, they way they gather in black throbbing blobs on walls, the way they move their long legs around when threatened-- EEEEEK. I never really cared for them before, but visiting the narrow cave at Enchanted Rock in college and crawling in dark spaces only to look above and realize the ceiling is quivering, and then to realize with horror that you have thousands of pulsing harvestmen inches from ALL YOUR HAIR, and yeah, that's what did it for me. The word for the masses is "aggregation," a term you never want associated with creatures that freak you out.

harvestmanc06-05-10.jpgIt's the quivering. It's the way they move. I really should capture a video, but I'm feeling pretty weirded out just by how close I had to get to take the pictures. Why? Because when I got close they started to move! They freaked out and started moving and pulsing up and down and then waved their long second legs around like antenna at me, and then I freaked out and I'm just lucky I didn't fall off the ladder I was standing on. Did you know that the legs can keep twitching after they are detached, due to little pacemakers in the first segment? I read that -- I did not try it out. Apparently detaching their twitching leg is actually a defense mechanism to help them escape from predators.

harvestmane06-05-10.jpgBut in researching them, I reluctantly have to admit that they should probably maybe sort of go on the list of a garden's beneficial creatures. They are predators and scavengers both, and if they'd just stay out of sight, they'd be kind of sort of tolerated in my garden. They can't hurt me or my family, other than to give me a heart attack! But no, they are currently on my house, and if their numbers start to increase and my heart starts getting that fight or flight feeling too many times, they're going to have to go. I will not have big quivering wiggling black masses making me relive my cave experience over and over again! THIS IS WHAT NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF, PEOPLE.

harvestmanf06-05-10.jpgLet's jump right in with a new poem shall we?

O Harvestman, My Bogeyman
© 2009, Great Stems

I think that I should never see
A Harvestman coming straight at me
Even worse is what I fear
That thousands of them gather here.
Lurking, bobbing, on the wall
Legs that make them ten-feet tall

FYI, I'm not actually scared of the harvestman. I won't really run screaming in terror when I see it. But it does creep me out a lot, a LOT, and you won't catch me hanging out around it for long. They might creep me out, but I don't really wish them ill will. I just wish them a new location.

So I've told a long tale, and in it confessed my nature weaknesses. What in nature freaks you out?


EDIT, same day: A funny thing happened after I wrote this post. I finished saving it and got in the car to head to a swim meet. I was still all creeped out after writing the post and doing all those pictures, so I was still thinking about the effects the harvestmen have on me and I started thinking up new lines for the poem. Well, I was driving on a rather long empty road and a cop pulled me over. It was a beautiful blue snazzy "police chase" kind of car, too -- one of those new ones that make your jaw drop. Part of me thought it was kind of cool to be pulled over by the most awesome police car ever. Of course, I was in a mini-van -- not so cool. Well, the dialogue went something like this:

Ma'am, do you know why I pulled you over?

          Ummmm... (serious pause here) maybe I was driving too fast?

Yes, ma'am -- that stretch of road is marked as 45, and you were going 60.

         Oh. (pause) Well, I was thinking about something that had me freaked out. It was
         those harvestmen, those daddylonglegs. And they were all on my house. And they were
         quivering and bobbing, and I'm still creeped out by them. And I guess I didn't know
         I was driving fast. I'm not a speeder by nature.

Please sign here, ma'am.

        Here? Okay.

Thank you, ma'am. Well, this is just a warning about your speed. It would have been a ticket, but in all my years, I've heard lots of stories, and I've never heard one like that before. 

By the way, Austinites, don't speed on McNeil, that part near the railroad as it heads toward Wells Branch. Mr. Cool Cop Car might be there waiting for you, but if he is, he's really nice. 

Predator vs. Predator


spottedorb06-01-10d.jpgWinner: Spider

I've been talking a lot about the nature of nature lately, and yesterday the garden presented me with yet another example, again making me ponder my emotions in relation to what happens in "the real world."


 As excited as I've been watching the dragonflies and damsels zoom about my garden, I had mixed feelings about seeing this Spotted Orbweaver, possibly a Western Spotted Orbweaver, with its captured prize, a female Common White dragonfly. Two predators, both beneficial in a garden, but only one could win. And the truth is, the dragonfly didn't have a chance, with her wings caught in the spider's web.


 Am I sad? Absolutely. But am I okay with it? Absolutely. I just wish the timing hadn't been right after I happily followed dragonflies around for decent photos. I guess the spider was showing me how to really stalk dragonflies.


By the way, believe it or not, there is an animal in nature that does get me a little squeamish. But I'll save that post for another day, hee hee.

Eight Legs and Three Beaks

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A bit of camouflage today.

This spider was not happy with the photographer. Bad hair day? Most likely mine.


And hidden in our shed, a nest with at least three baby birdies. The nest was just out of reach of any decent light (had to use a flash), and I really didn't want to disturb the babies for too long just to try to get a better picture. They've grown so fast -- I wish I had documented the stages.


If you look really closely and use your imagination, there's evidence of three baby wrens in the nest. That big one on top is playing mama and keeping the other two warm, I guess!

Speaking of Mama Bird, she also was not happy with the photographer. Bad hair day strikes again!

I suppose technically that this post should have been Fourteen Legs and Three Beaks. Or Sixteen Legs and Four Beaks if you count Mama Bird. Papa Bird was around, too -- now we're up to Eighteen Legs and Five Beaks. Then there's the photographer... Twenty Legs and Five Beaks and Two Lips. There ya go.

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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