Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Spider Bites Woman’s Lip”

The headline, Spider Bites Woman’s Lip popped out in my news feed yesterday. As an entomologist, these bizarre reports are click bait for me. I bit. As I read through the linked piece, my first thought was, “Yes!” Someone was definitely hallucinating!”

My other knee jerk conclusion is we have doctors who have absolutely no diagnostic skills whatsoever. In reconsidering, he may not be the one at fault though, or at least not entirely. In fact, it would be interesting to hear the physician’s side of this story. Did he definitively state it was a Brown Recluse Bite? Or, did he suggest it “might be?” Are the patient and the Newsweek reporter the ones guilty of the hyperbole here?

It’s got to be fantastic to be featured in Newsweek, right? Please note my sarcasm! The media is a huge problem when it comes to sensationalizing stories and egging on the screaming fear folks have around spiders. You’re welcome to take a look at this story yourself, but please come back because I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong with it!

https://www.newsweek.com/spider-bite-womans-lip-brown-recluse-hospitalized-hallucinate-virginia-kayaking-1636005

First off, there is NO spider. No one collected a spider. No one brought a spider to the doctor to ID. Even if there had been an actual spider, since when have physicians become expert taxonomists and actually have the skills to identify arachnids or insects. Strangely, the story reports the woman didn’t even think much about the bite when it happened. Her words. Not mine. I really wonder about this mystery “spider.”

Secondly, the bite occurred, I presume, when she was paddling her kayak through a waterway. Brown Recluse spiders don’t make webs in the air, and certainly not over the water like that. Of course, I suppose it is possible for a spider to have been in the kayak, crawled up her legs and torso, and then crawled all the way up to her face where it bit her on the lip. You’d think she would have seen it. Also, Brown Recluse spiders like to live with other Brown Recluse spiders, so it’s difficult to imagine not finding a spider somewhere in the kayak to bring to the doctor.

Third. Lots of things can cause spider bite-looking lesions. I’m surprised the doctor declared it a Brown Recluse bite. There is no test to diagnose that someone has been bitten by a Brown Recluse. Again, no spider was brought in, so why was this deemed a spider bite when it could have been numerous other things? For instance, UC Riverside’s Department of Entomology webpage about Brown Recluse Spiders states,

The following can cause lesions similar to the lesion from a bite of a Brown Recluse spider …mites, bedbugs, a secondary Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacterial infection and “Three different tick-inflicted maladies have been misdiagnosed as brown recluse bite: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the bite of the soft tick, Ornithodoros coriaceus. “

If you want to read more about this, you can check it out here – https://spiders.ucr.edu For a complete list of look-a-like medical conditions, I’ll refer you to this chart https://spiders.ucr.edu/causes-necrotic-wounds-other-brs-bites And, I’ll add my own too, “Various species of bees, wasps, and even thrips can cause lesions that appear to be the feared spider bite.” https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/category/thrips/

What about her hallucinations? My first thought was she has had an outbreak of a herpes lesion and could have developed herpes simplex encephalitis. Please DO look this up! I did. It’s one of the side effects of getting a nasty cold sore. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/encephalitis-herpes-simplex/

Now, I’m not a doctor. I didn’t take this woman’s medical history. I’m just pointing out some OTHER possibilities. Possibilities that are actually much more likely than the sensationalized over-reaching claim it was a Brown Recluse spider. Hmmmm… Hysteria and hyperbole. I hope she recovers, and I hope she will be able to kayak again soon. I just wish there was a way to stop the inevitable slaughter of innocent spiders that will ensue. It’s a shame.

***Note*** We do NOT have Brown Recluse Spiders in the San Juan Islands. Please take a look at the attached distribution map and show it to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. https://spiders.ucr.edu/spiders-map

Thanks for reading!

References:

A complete list of publications about the Brown Recluse Spider (Loxosceles reclusa) can be found here: https://spiders.ucr.edu/publications

https://www.amazon.com/Brown-Recluse-Spider-Richard-Vetter/dp/0801479851

https://bugguide.net/node/view/3349

Mystery Eggs Hatch

They hatched!

Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly being Nepytia phantasmaria or Phantom Hemlock Looper eggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
Eggs darkening – September 18, 2021 San Juan Island
They hatched! Oct. 7, 2021

Mystery moth eggs hatch – October 7, 2021

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. 🙂

Autumn is for Arachnids!

Last month I held my 2nd annual virtual event, “September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans.” Little did I know it would turn out to be so popular. Even the Journal of the San Juan Islands interviewed me. One of the questions asked was, “What led me to create the event in the first place?” Let me answer that for you.

Well, I happen to be an entomologist (someone who studies insects), but after living here for twelve years, I’ve come to LOVE the diversity of spiders that share our islands. I want to help others understand how important spiders are in our ecosystem and dispel some of the unfortunate and undeserved myths associated with our eight-legged friends.

This week, the spider sleuthing continues, albeit informally. I received some emails about spiders, and actually had two folks drop off spiders at my husband’s office in little cups for me to take a look at. “What ARE these?” inquiring minds wanted to know.

One was a suspected Black Widow that turned out to be a look-a-like False Widow (Steatoda grossa). While instinctively protective of the little sack of clustered eggs laid in a matrix of messy web in the plastic cup, I could sense she was alarmed. I was able to remove the lid and take a few photos without disturbing her too much. For now, she remains in the plastic cup. I may relocate her and her egg sack to our greenhouse tomorrow. Steatoda grossa spiders are not medically significant to humans. She’s a friend. Her presence helps keep the actual black widow spiders from colonizing our homes.

Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa spider with egg sack
Steatoda grossa ventral view

The other cup held two spiders. All I knew ahead of picking them up was they were presumed deceased. One of those two spiders moved ever so slightly when I opened the lid. Where there is movement, there is LIFE! I was mesmerized with this spider, a Woodlouse hunter (Dysdera crocata). After photographing this beauty, I set it free in our stack of cut wood that doubles as a fence along the edge of our property. It will find plenty of isopods in the forest floor and the wood will double as a nice winter home with all its nooks and crevices. Woodlouse hunters are also harmless to humans. Consider them friendly!

Woodlouse Hunter (Dysdera crocata)

The last poor little soul was unfortunately frozen after it was collected. Yes, I opened the lid knowing this, but imagining movement, and hoping that maybe it hadn’t been frozen long enough to kill it. I don’t personally enjoy killing bugs. They’re much more interesting to me alive. I took the post mortem photos, but I’d have preferred being able to resurrect it.

Callobius severus

This sweet little dude is a Hackelmesh Weaver. His scientific name is Callobius severus. He’s harmless (a friend). He was only trying to find a mate. Male spiders often wander this time of year in search of a female. Look at those little palps! Those are the organs the male spider uses to transfer sperm to the female. They looks like little paws…or maybe tiny furry boxing gloves. I’m sorry this fella didn’t find a friend. May he R.I.P.

Callobius severus
Callobius severus

Thanks for reading!

Spider Vivarium DIY

It’s wet and rainy out today, so I thought I’d share an indoor spider post for you to view. This isn’t my own, but I just watched it and it’s an informative, short, DIY on how to set up a vivarium for a jumping spider. Yes! Sometimes having a dog or a cat is impractical or impossible. Time, space, and affordability can impact our choice of animal companion. There’s also the environmental impact. 🤔 Hmmm, how many of us really consider that? On the enviro-scale, keeping a spider is far greener than probably any other pet you could choose. No greenhouse gases!

Biting Black Flies on San Juan Island

This little critter landed on me the morning of August 14, 2021 (with a few friends). I managed to collect the specimen for a photo op session. AND, I let it bite me. It felt like it was sawing into my skin. I have a pretty high pain tolerance though, so it wasn’t so awful. My husband suggested I save the specimen in case I came down with any weird disease!

I have it in a vial on my desk. ID…for starters, it’s a fly (Diptera). This is a black fly (Simulium sp.) and I’ve found the larvae in the seasonal stream near our house before. At some point, I’ll write up a better post for you about these, but for today, you can watch as this female uses her serrated mouthparts to cut through my skin and take a blood meal. She’ll use the protein to help her with egg development.

Black Fly (Simulium sp) – San Juan Island August 14, 2021
Black Fly (Simulium sp) – San Juan Island August 14, 2021
Black fly (Simulium sp) biting my finger
April 8, 2020 – San Juan Island, WA – Black Fly larvae in stream
April 8, 2020 – San Juan Island, WA – Black Fly larvae in stream

My recommendation if you’re visiting or planning to visit the San Juan Islands in summertime is to bring long sleeves and wear long pants. With climate change, my guess is we will have more biting flies out in the summer evenings.

More about black flies on BugGuide – https://bugguide.net/node/view/16613

Thanks for reading!

Green Bean leaf Grabs Miss Fly Snuffleupagus

Every once in awhile you observe something in nature that makes a story to share. I hope you will enjoy this one.

I have a love hate relationship with my climbing green beans. First of all, I don’t really like eating greens beans that much. The leaves are pretty to look at, but they are lethal to my poor bugs!!!


This morning when I was watering my bean vines, I noticed a teeny little fly, seemingly stuck to one of the leaves. My eyesight is terrible up close, so I had to use both my reading glasses AND my clip on macro lens attached to my Iphone camera to take a closer look.

Not only was the little fly stuck, but it looked like the green bean had somehow glued her to the leaf by her proboscis. I swear that poor little fly LOOKED at me with a plea for help.


Of course I was going to help, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it without causing further injury or accidentally amputating her mouthpart (the proboscis), which looks like a teeny little trunk and reminded me of the character, Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.


Finding the tiniest piece of straw on the ground, I gently pried her free. She flew away, filled with relief and maybe a wee bit of gratitude for my efforts in helping her.

Be kind to all living beings.

Two Tints! Araneus spiders – Araneus diadematus

I wanted to share with you photos of two spiders I photographed recently. Location: San Juan Island, WA. Both are in the family Araneidae or what we know as Orb Weavers. The first (orangey one), was observed on a tomato plant July 31, 2021, and the 2nd (brown one) was observed yesterday evening, August 10, 2021, on some sort of wetland grass near my home.

While I knew the orangey one was a Cross Orb Weaver, Araneus diadematus, I wasn’t certain of the brown one’s ID beyond genus Araneus, so I reached out to Seattle Burke Museum’s arachnologist, Rod Crawford to see what he’d say. He responded to my query this afternoon and offered that both are Araneus diadematus spiders. There can be variability in color tint (many of us know the Cross Orb Weaver A. diadematus as pumpkin orange).

Rod continued with, “the ventral view of the brown one shows it is penultimate (still one molt to go). Once they mature they will be more noticeable. Seattle specimens are at this same stage now.” He also offered in terms of color variants among spiders, …”I imagine there is a genetic component to this variation, at least in most cases, but I’ve never looked into the details. I have found situations where spiders living amidst a population explosion of green leafhoppers all tended to be greenish in color, presumably derived from their food.”

It’s all so very interesting, isn’t it! I’m glad we have scientists who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Thanks to Rod for his help!

Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 07.31.2021)
Ventral View – penultimate molt – Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 08.10.2021)
Araneus diadematus (San Juan Island 08.10.2021)

To learn more about spiders, be sure to stop by Rod’s website, Spider Myths – Everything that ‘everybody knows’ about spiders is wrong! https://www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology/arachnology-and-entomology/spider-myths

Thanks for reading!

Physocephala burgessi (Thick-Headed Fly)

Found this cool Thick-headed Fly in the family Conopidae on my daisies while I was watering this morning. I believe this one to be Physocephala burgessi.

Thick headed flies are known for a behavior called “hilltopping” where flies will aggregate to find a mate. Adults are wasp mimics and seek out Hymenoptera species (bees/wasps) for development of their offspring.

A parasitoid of bees and wasps, Conopid flies will target an unsuspecting host typically while it is leaving its nest or nectaring on floral sources. The adult fly grabs the host and oviposits into the body of the individual.

The fly’s eggs hatch and migrate into the abdominal cavity of the bee/wasp where development continues as the fly larvae consume the contents within the abdominal cavity of the host. The bee or wasp host continues to live, and is able to fly throughout the duration of the larval development period.

Just before the end of larval development and transition to pupation, the host dies. The death of the host usually occurs somewhere near the entrance to its nest or within the nest itself. Pupation occurs in the abdomen of the now deceased bee or wasp host.

The adult fly typically emerges after overwintering in the abdominal puparium of the bee.

Note*** Typically, populations of these flies are fairly low. In twelve years on San Juan Island, this is the 2nd specimen I have ever seen. I photographed my first Conopid fly at American Camp, on the bluff overlooking Grannies Cove in 2010. In reviewing records on iNaturalist, it looks like my two are the only ones reported in San Juan County. This past year (2021), another resident sent in a photograph, bringing the total, that I know of, to 3.

References and Further Reading

https://bugguide.net/node/view/7190

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014735/

https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2700384#page/126/mode/1up

http://staff.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Gibson_JESBC_2017.pdf

https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/etd/6ab4c500-3013-43c0-aa9e-9f94353f1ff5/etd_pdf/139b167a8dbbb1d5ba97e1cd968dda3c/gibson-theevolutionarybiologyofconopidaedipteraa.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-019-1634-9

https://uwm.edu/field-station/tricks-of-the-trade-thick-headed-flies/

http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/identify/conopid.htm

Deleted.

Well, today hasn’t started off all that well. Checked email this morning to find out someone had reported me on Facebook for violating community standards. Facebook won’t tell me who complained or what the violation was. Someone has reviewed my appeal and the decision CANNOT be reversed. 😦

I’m not sure what happens next, aside from the fact that I lost lots of personal photos, contacts of friends, and my bug page took a hit along with this, so please bear with me as I will likely have to reconstruct my social media life from scratch. I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether I even want to.

I suspect this was a deliberate hit, but I won’t say more because I’m not certain and hate speculating. We live in a world where there are lots of opinions and disagreements are bound to happen. Assumptions are made and sometimes they are wrong.

Today, I’m going to enjoy my time with Drago and my two lovely cats.

You can email me at cynthiabrast@icloud.com if you need to reach me.

Have a nice week!

Nodding Thistle Rhinoceros Beetle

I found a “new-to-me” bug the other day when I put on my heavy duty gloves and reached to pull out some bull thistle growing in a pile of dirt near our home.  I was being extra careful because the thistle has spines and they kind of hurt when you get them stuck in your hand.   The beetle was right in front of me when I pushed apart some leaves to get a better grasp on the stem.  

Nodding Thistle Receptacle Weevil (Rhinocycyllus conicus) or, The Nodding Rhinoceros Beetle

As I looked a bit more closely, I saw there were quite a few of these beetles on the thistle, especially on the buds.  I went back to the house to get my camera, took some photos, then went about figuring out what this was.  Definitely a beetle. 

It was weevil-like, and pretty hairy.  There were quite a few of them paired up.  They have spring fever like a lot of other bugs I’ve seen of late.  That’s how we get more bugs though, and we need them, whether we like all of them or not.  

(Rhinocyllus conicus) on Bull Thistle

Identification took me about an hour.  I am getting better at piecing bits of information collected over the years.  Bull Thistle is not exactly a popular plant.  It’s managed to get itself on the noxious weed list.  No one seems to want this plant in their garden, aside from Eeyore, who really loves thistle, right?  

Noxious weed made me think of biocontrol.  That narrowed things down a bit and I learned this is the Nodding Thistle Receptacle weevil (Rhinocyllus conicus).  Personally, I’m calling it the Nodding Thistle Rhinoceros Beetle because being in the family Curculionidae, it has the appearance of a nodding rhinoceros. 

 So, the beetle was introduced to control thistle in the US because thistle isn’t welcome, at least the non-native species like bull thistle aren’t.  The part that got me reading to find out more was the adjective used to describe this beetle as “controversial.”  Well, what I found is that the beetle doesn’t just eat non-native thistles.  It eats NATIVE thistles too (Cirsium edule and Cirsium brevistylum).  

Ventral view of my Nodding Thistle Receptacle Beetle – It’s kinda cute!

Why does that matter?  Well, disrupting native ecosystems can have ripple effects.  I found out another reason the beetle is controversial is because there are native pollinators that depend on thistle, like the beautiful Painted Lady Butterflies that we love.  Thistles also produce seed and flax used by our very own state bird, the American Goldfinch. Which brings me to the question, “If the butterflies and birds have begun to utilize the non-native species, are we making the problem worse by introducing another non-native species?”

In my continued reading , I actually began to connect the fact that I buy bags of expensive thistle seed at the store to attract the goldfinches, but I’ve got LIVING food for them in my yard that is free (and also free of pesticides), and here I am pulling it out.   Am I going to waste my energy trying to eradicate a small patch of bull thistle?  Nope.  If it starts to get out of control, we can just mow it down. For now, I am leaving it for the birds and the butterflies…and all the other little creatures I’ve seen living on it.  There were lots of super cute little jumping spiders all over it yesterday!

I’ll leave you with a question. Should we have introduced this hairy little beetle that isn’t native?  I don’t have a good answer.  Maybe it will just help control the spread of thistle and won’t eradicate it entirely.  I’d like to be able to have Painted Lady’s, Goldfinches, and lots of jumping spiders in my garden, even if I occasionally get pricked by the spines of those thistles.  For now, I’m going to stick to improving my drawing skills!

https://sanjuanislander.com/news-articles/environment-science-whales/1898/noxious-weed-alert-thistle

http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/imagecollection/taxon.php?Taxon=Cirsium%20edule

https://www.wnps.org/native-plant-directory/88-cirsium-edule

https://uwm.edu/field-station/thistle-head-weevil/

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