Tag Archives: Arachnid

“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

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!

Eunuch or “U-neek” Eeek! Another Spider Sex Story!”

Yesterday I was literally in bed most of the day recovering from a precautionary step to prevent severe illness.   I felt like I had been in a bad auto accident, but that’s got to be better than actually having and/or dying from a virus, right?   Well, I used the time to read.  Mostly I read spider behavior stuff.  Believe me, some of these things are pretty interesting!  Spider sex for instance.  Who knew! I found this somewhat sensational spider story. This spider doesn’t live in the San Juans, but it’s so weird, I just have to share!  

DID YOU KNOW there is such thing as a Eunuch spider? (Tidarren sisyphoides), one of the Theridiidae or Tangle Web Spiders, AMPUTATES one of its own pedipalps (the male sex organs).  The species name (Tidarren sisyphoides) is a combination translation from Gosiute-Greek meaning ‘small male’.  Male spiders of this species are very tiny (1mm) in comparison to females ( only 1% the size of the female).  

According to R.J. Adams (2014) and Ramos et al (2004), Tidarren sisyphoides male spiders are born with, and develop two palps, just like other spiders, but at the penulitimate (next to last) molt (shedding of the exoskeleton as part of growth/development), the male spider amputates one of these palps ON PURPOSE!  

The amputation process isn’t done by chewing or anything of that sort.  The tiny spider wraps it in a silk scaffold, then dismembers the palp by twisting or moving around in circles until it breaks off.  The remaining palp is quite large in proportion to the 1mm sized body of this tiny spider, making up 10% of the total body mass. 

Why would the spider amputate one of its palps?  Well, turns out that males with one palp can move around and chase females much faster with only one palp.  It is supposed to give these guys an evolutionary reproductive advantage.  Males only mate once, so the reproductive drive is stronger than the drive to preserve one’s palp! Once he’s inserted that single palp, he will die within minutes,  still attached to the female. Hmmm, getting laid might not be so lucky depending on how you look at it.

After mating, the female will extricate the palp from her epigynum (the female reproductive receptacle).   While some other species of spiders are known to eat the male after mating, this species does not. She will merely discard the body.   

Interesed in reading more?  Check out these links, and read my blog about spider sex too! 

Adams, R. J., & Manolis, T. D. (2014). Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States (1st ed.). University of California Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjhpb

Kuntner, M., Agnarsson, I. and Li, D. (2015), The eunuch phenomenon: adaptive evolution of genital emasculation in sexually dimorphic spiders. Biol Rev, 90: 279-296. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12109

Ramos,M.,  Irschick, D. J., and Christenson, T.E.  2004. Overcoming an evolutionary conflict: Removal of a reproductive organ greatly increases locomotor performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  101 (14) 4883-4887; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0400324101 https://www.pnas.org/content/101/14/4883

The Teeny Tiny “Trashline Orb Weaver” – Yes, that’s really the name!

Trashline Orb Weaver (Cyclosa sp.) San Juan Island, WA 09.06.2021

I am very nearly blind when I try to see things up close, so it truly surprises me how I SEE things like the tiny “laundry” line of dead bugs this little orb weaver had strewn along a filmy thread between the boughs of our fir tree. At first, I thought it was just debris, stuck to the remnant of a spider thread, long abandoned. Upon closer inspection, I saw more threads and then my attention focused on the center, where I was able to discern what looked like teeny legs curled up around a body.

Trashline Orb Weaver

I used my clip on macro lens to get a better look. Indeed, there was a tiny spider in the center. I thought it was dead. That’s EXACTLY what the spider was hoping I’d think, and then I’d move on and the spider could enjoy the morning sun, and maybe a tiny bug for breakfast too.

Trashline Orb Weaver

Trashline Orb Weaver

I had a hard time getting decent photos. Even with the macro lens, focusing was tough. The wind would blow at just the WRONG second and I’d have to start all over again. I couldn’t find my tripod, but finally got a decent pole to help me balance, and went out to take photos at different times over a period of 2 days. I even went out last night and took a picture.

Awake or Sleeping? Trashline Orb Weaver (Cyclosa sp.) at night. San Juan Island 09.07.2021

It was fairly easy to identify the spider to Genus (Cyclosa), but species ???? . After going through the literature I had, I narrowed it to 2 possibilities, but reached out to Rod Crawford for help. Rod is the curator of arachnids at Seattle’s Burke Museum and this is what he says,

“Yes, it’s a Cyclosa. This time of year all Cyclosa are juvenile, and I for one cannot distinguish between our 2 species (C. conica, C. turbinata) as juveniles. However, C. conica is more common.”

So, my little spider with a laundry line of bugs is either Cyclosa conica or Cyclosa turbinata.

Why exactly do they string the debris along their web lines? Well, again, this debris is usually made up of dead bugs and other tiny bits of debris attached to the silk line. Typically, the spider is positioned somewhere in the middle, using the debris as camouflage against predators. Often, the female spiders’ egg sacks are attached to this “laundry line” too. I think laundry line sounds better than trash line, but I don’t think I get to rename the spider.

There are five species of Cyclosa spiders in North America, north of Mexico. I believe we only have the two mentioned by Rod here. I’m going back out to check on my new friend after I finish my post. Enjoy the day and remember to Be Nice to Spiders!

Thanks for reading.

References and Fun Reading

Eaton, E. 2012. Spider Sunday: Trashline Orb Weavers. Bug Eric Blogspot. http://bugeric.blogspot.com/2012/06/spider-sunday-trashline-orb-weavers.html

Bugguide.net. 2021. Genus Cyclosa – Trashline Orb Weavers. https://bugguide.net/node/view/1989

Trashline Orb Weavers. Missouri Department of Conservation. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/trashline-orbweavers

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!

Wanna feel my palps? Said the HE to the SHE. This is a Spider Sex Story 😱

Wanna feel my palps?  Said the HE to the SHE.  

My husband said this title was far to risque’ but I’m going with it anyway.  I would tell you to “get your mind out of the gutter,” but this is a SPIDER sex story.  Sex education is not a bad thing and it’s good to know how it all works, right?

So male spiders have these fuzzy, enlarged “paws” that sort of hang down in front of their face.  People who study spiders call them palps.  They are sort of like a 5th pair of legs, but used by the spider to manipulate food and “smell” things.  These palps are also where the sex organs are housed in adult male.  The hairs on the palps have chemoreceptors that help the fellas follow the pheromone trails of SHE spiders.   This is the mating season for one of our commonly seen spiders in the San Juans…the Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica) who happens to be harmless, just horny.

How do spiders DO it?  Well, an adult male spider will weave a small silken sheet called a sperm web.  He deposits a drop of semen on the sheet and then dips the tips of his palps into the semen, drawing it up into what is called the emboli.  The emboli act like a syringe, drawing the fluid up to be held in the palp for transfer to a SHE spider.  With his palps “charged and loaded,” he gleefully wanders off to woo all the ladies. 

Some of these male spiders really go all out to impress a gal.  They will drum (with their palps), dance, and display all sorts of postures to show how great they are.  They better do EVERYTHING they can to impress her too since SHE might eat them if it’s not good enough. Watch a jumping spider perform his quirky courtship ritual here –

https://www.scientificamerican.com/video/spiders-perform-a-spooky-seduction-dance/?fbclid=IwAR16qMBBajQ7UVnZAZHepFCuHToEch2LCtUETkKlSFB6r31qZKMgN2zygqc

If mating is successful, the male usually makes his exit…quite literally.  He’s at the end.  

And THAT, my friends, is the end of this spider sex story.  

Thanks for reading!  

SPIDER SLEUTHING IN THE SAN JUANS – DAY 14 – Arach-no-phobia

Let’s break down this fear you have about spiders! Take the word ARACHNOPHOBIA here. If you break it into parts Arach -NO-phobia, it will be easier. Just focus on the NO PHOBIA part, and watch the short clip below of my jumping spider friend who came out daily to “play” in our sunroom for over a week. Yes…every day at 3 o’clock, it would peek out from behind our door trim and hop onto my finger.

Spiders don’t want to bite you. They are our friends! Sweet little souls who provide wonderful (free) pest control services in and around our homes.

Salticus scenicus jumping spider wants to play

September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans – Day 10 – A Home with Folding Doors

I found this spider in our barn in August and thought it was dead, so I did what I often do – grab it and pick it up! Hmmm. This spider moved. It was alive.

This is a Folding Door Spider, Antrodiaetus pacificus. While I’m not 100% certain, I do believe this is a male since there was no burrow nearby and it’s “wandering” season. Most of the time, females are inside or near the entrance to their burrow.

Folding door spiders are the “tarantulas” of the Pacific Northwest. Their scientific name comes from Greek antrodiaitos (αντροδιαιτος)- “living in caves”, from antron (αντρον)- “cave” + diaita (διαιτα)- “way of life, dwelling” – according to https://bugguide.net/node/view/23442 They build their homes (burrows) in rotting or decaying wood or moss, living in moist, forested areas where they are rarely seen.

Females are approximately 13mm in size, with males a bit smaller at 11mm. They are classified as Mygalomorph spiders, the more primitive spiders with one pair of book lungs.

Occasionally, they become victims of spider hunting wasps. These wasps sting and paralyze the spider, then drag them into a burrow. The wasp lays her eggs on the spider, then leaves. The developing larvae feast on the poor spider while it is still alive.

Please be kind to these harmless, gentle giants!

Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020
Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020
Antrodiaetus pacificus – San Juan Island, WA 08.10.2020

Sleuthing Spiders in the San Juans- Day TWO (It’s all about the NAME!)

Sleuthing Spiders Day TWO! It’s all about the NAME.

Did you know I name the spiders in my house? I also can recognize some of the cuties that are repeat offenders. Repeat offenders? Oh yes! These are the ones who I find in my kitchen or bathroom sink on a regular basis.

I even have some that end up in the shower or bathtub. The toilet you ask? Well, we keep our toilet lids down so they don’t accidentally fall in and drown. Also, keeping that toilet lid down (especially when you flush) prevents weird germy bacteria and viruses from spewing out into the air where you might breathe it back in! That’s another topic entirely though. Tomorrow, I’ll cover why spiders end up in bathrooms in the first place, so stay tuned!

Are any of these spiders in my house going to bite me? Doubtful. And, even if they did, most likely all that would happen is NOTHING! At most, I might feel a small pinch like I did when the one hanging out in my bath towel bit me.

I knew it was a spider because I was patting myself dry, felt it bite my leg, then watched it drop to the floor. Sadly, I was the one inflicting pain and had mortally wounded the poor creature. All I suffered was a tiny raised red mark on my skin that went away in less than 20 minutes.

Was I worried about the bite? First off, I’m no spider expert because entomologists study INSECTS and spiders are ARACHNIDS. It’s all about legs (and math). Entomologists can’t count beyond 6 and Arachnologists can count to 8. Bad joke, right? I wasn’t worried because most spiders (and I’m referring to the ones that are found in the San Juan Islands) are harmless (or you can use the scientific description of “medically insignificant” to impress your friends)!

Learning to correctly identify some of these spiders will put your fears to rest. We’ll go through some of the ones commonly found in homes, especially at this time of year. We will learn to identify a black widow and where they might be found. Also, we’ll be learning about widow look-a-likes that you might not want to squish in your home because they chase the real widows away!

But today! Today, we are going to NAME that spider in our house. I found a list of very cool spider names online (check out either of these links if you need ideas – https://animalhype.com/arachnids/spider-names/ and https://petpress.net/pet-spider-names/ My favorites were Zorro, Otto, Blossom, Skreech, Jinx, Twitch, Tinkerbelle, and get this…SPINDRA!

I named my spider Tinkerbelle! I think Tinkerbelle is a SHE spider. Tinkerbelle is giant house spider hanging out in my bathroom this week. Her scientific name is Eratigena duellica.

Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica)
Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica)
Shelf-like spider webs in bathroom

I looked around the ceiling of the bathroom and can see little shelf-like webs where some of those super irritating fruit flies are landing. I’ve resisted my OCD urges to clean the webs away and actually appreciating the natural pest control that is free of toxic chemicals.

If you want to become FEAR-Less of Giant House Spiders, and we’ll be seeing LOTS of them through the upcoming fall months, someone I know put together an awesome YouTube video about them. You can check out Arlo’s video here –

AND, don’t forget! Post your spider photos here! Brownie points for whoever has the most creative name!

https://www.facebook.com/events/2753071885020278

The House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)

I got the coolest picture of a bug on Friday! 

House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)
2/28/2020
San Juan Island
photo by T. Santora
House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides)
2/28/2020
San Juan Island
photo by T. Santora

This little creature was photographed on February 28, 2020 by Trever Santora on San Juan Island, WA.

It’s a Pseudoscorpion! Found on the windowsill of his house and no larger than a tiny sesame seed, I believe it to be an immature House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides). 

Keep an eye out for these. They’re quite harmless to humans and can’t sting or bite you. Pseudoscorpions are predacious and beneficial because they eat other organisms that are pests. Some live in birds’ nests and eat the mites that can build up and harm nestlings. 

Since they don’t have wings and can’t fly, pseudoscorpions move around by phoresy. That means they’ll hitch a ride on someone who can! Not just birds, but bees, wasps, and flies can also provide a free lift.

Check out https://bugguide.net/node/view/728962 for more information.

Thanks for reading 🌻

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