Well, I am home on the couch, still sick and running fever. It was a miserable night. I don’t really feel much like reading or watching TV or anything. If I lie down to try and sleep, my nose gets so stuffy I can’t breathe. If you have a few minutes, I will share something fascinating about one of the cool spiders I’m reading about in Chapter 1 of my book, The Spider by John Crompton.
John admits in his book that taxonomy isn’t really his thing. His focus is on behaviors. The behaviors of invertebrates is truly intriguing to me. I will forever be curious about these creatures, how they live, what their lives are like, and such. I’m having to work a bit, googling as I read, as the scientific names of many of these spiders have changed over the years – with reclassifications and updates that will sort of make you crazy trying to figure out what they might be called NOW.
The spider I want to share about is an Australian Orb Weaver spider, formerly called Dicrostichus magnificus, now re-named Ordgarius magnificus. The common name for this spider is the Magnificent spider or Bolas spider, a very suitable common name indeed. Keep reading and you’ll see why!
During the daytime, this spider hangs out in cryptic retreats. Usually these are little tents constructed from silk-tied leaves of eucalyptus trees. At night, the spider will come out to hunt and this is where things become fascinating.
At dusk, the Bolas spider sits on a twig and gathers her tools or perhaps more appropriately, her tackle. She spins a short silk threat about 2 inches long and at the end of this “line” attaches a sticky globule. The name Bolas actually comes from a South American throwing weapon with a weight on the end.
When everything is ready, Ms. Bolas sits with this line dangling from one of her front legs and waits. Amazingly, she also has coated the “lure” of her line with a pheromone mimicking her intended prey. The pheromone is said to replicate the scent of a certain female moth in the Noctuid group, attracting unsuspecting males of the species into range.
Ms. Bolas is triggered into action when she senses the wing beats of unwary moths nearing her line. According to Crompton, she actually lifts her weighted line and whirls it around her head. As the moth comes closer, into lassooing distance, she casts her line. If luck has it, the lure (globule) sticks to the target.
Even more incredible is the discovery of yet another spider species) Cladomelea akermaini, an African species of Orbweaver who also hunts using a bolas. Crompton states that this species is able to cut off her lure and replace it with a fresh one when, during a fishing expedition similar to the Australian Ordgarius magnificus, the lure dries out.
I will leave you to read more of Crompton’s account of these spiders on your own. It is truly fascinating – the idea of spiders creating and using tools. We underestimate what we cannot see. For in observing these creatures, our eyes are opened and we are amazed.
I’ve been home on San Juan Island, WA for 4 days now and clearly I picked up a bug traveling home. Not exactly the sort of bug I wanted, but it was inevitable given the crowded airplane and traveling stress. My husband came down with the BUG first. Then it hopped over to a new host – ME.
So, I’ve spent the afternoon on the couch labeling and sorting photos from one of our nature walks in Texas. This was the first of two hikes we took at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area Nature Preserve https://www.llela.org/about-llela/mission-and-vision. This area (approximately 2000 acres, I believe) has been conserved in conjunction with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of North Texas, the City of Lewisville, Lewisville ISD, the University of Texas in Arlington, and Texas A & M Agrilife Extension. It is a true jewel in the madness of the DFW metropolis where over 6.7 million people are displacing wildlife and native ecosystems are lost in the process. The BEST part of these hikes for me is the fact they do not allow dogs. NOT ANY! I am thrilled that the focus is on wildlife and habitat conservation and preservation instead of human recreation. I could actually be outdoors, enjoying nature AND viewing wildlife.
We’ve been to this preserve in prior trips to Texas. This year, we focused on hiking some trails we hadn’t been on before. Here is the gallery of some of the bugs I photographed, along with a few wonderful landscape scenes we viewed on the Redbud Trail – map here: https://www.llela.org/home/showdocument?id=9417
Please support environmental conservation wherever you are. This habitat may seem large at 2000 acres, but the former Blackland Prairie once covered 12 MILLION acres in the state of Texas. We need to set aside more if we are to weather the changes coming ahead.
Stay tuned for Bugging You From Texas, Part 3. I have more wonderful photos to share with you.
I was eating my lunch outdoors yesterday (October 6, 2022), and considering the end of season, depauperate community of bugs. There are fewer and fewer buzzing about the lingering tiny blossoms on my mint plants, which have been well-visited this season. Many of the winged flyers die out on their own accord. Lives spent – an ending synchronized with leaves falling from the trees. They’ve lived a season, maybe longer depending on the species. As adults, they’ve mated and sewn seeds for a new generation to emerge in spring. Some though, are captured and eaten by other organisms that are fueling stores for their own reproductive event – like these Long-jawed orb weaver spiders (Metallina segmentata) I witnessed, working together to wrap up their “lunch,” a Thick-legged Hoverfly (Syritta pipiens).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but depauperate was not to be the theme of my day!
Shortly after observing and filming the spiders, I noted some buzzing around our fruitless cherry tree. I walked over, thinking to myself, “You’re getting too close to that Yellowjacket!” Well, it wasn’t a yellowjacket at all. It was a Robberfly (Laphria ventralis), I believe – and SHE was ovipositing into our tree.
Later this evening when I was showing my husband the photos, he asked what the eggs would eat when they hatch. I had to look it up. Well, Robber Fly larvae are known to prey on the eggs, larvae, and pupae of other insects, especially beetle larvae living in decaying trees. Read more about this linked here: https://www.geller-grimm.de/genera07.htm
This Robber fly was an incredible mimic of a Yellowjacket – not only in appearance, but also in the way she flew about the tree. Fascinated, I watched her find a niche under some old bark and begin to oviposit. She did not like my camera or my presence, but tolerated me to a degree. Then she buzzed right into my face with complete confidence her mimicry would chase me away. Guess what? It worked. At least temporarily.
The next fun finds in Bug-landia were two caterpillars. I found an Eyed Sphinx Moth caterpillar (Smerinthus opthalmica) making headway down our driveway, undoubtedly wandering off to find a suitable location to pupate.
The second caterpillar I found is my absolute favorite moth species, the Rosy Aemilia moth (Lophocampa roseata). Since it was navigating down the middle of the road, I did gently relocate it to a safer spot so it wouldn’t get smooshed by the giant gravel trucks that fly up and down our once quiet country road.
Last, but not least is my new “pet.” I found her on my walk and she needed some help, so she’s come home to stay with us for some R&R, and a bit of end of life care. I’ve named her Wanda… One-Eyed Wanda. Wanda had evidently become an assault victim sometime just before I found her. The thought is that she was attacked and bitten by another female mantis – who evidently fled the scene before I got there. Poor wounded Wanda was not in great shape when I picked her up. She is missing an eye. It was not a pretty sight, but I couldn’t just leave her in the road.
She’s hanging out in the dining room tonight in a bug habitat/safe room so my indoor cats don’t batter her. I think she’s had enough battering in this life. I’m hoping she will still be able to lay an egg sack for me before she expires. Definitely plan to try and feed her tomorrow. I doctored her eye as best as I could. She can still see with the other one. Poor Wanda. 😦
Next up – Look for my post and forthcoming PowerPoint slide show about What’s Bugging Gary! Even better, check out the event (Garry Oak Conservation Symposium) in person if you’re on San Juan Island. It’s this Sunday at the Grange.
Our native pollinators were slow to emerge this year in the San Juans because of the cool weather. Usually, we can rely on flies, solitary bees and wasps, and even moths, ants, and others to pollinate our fruit trees. I did see some species of flies out this spring, but again, weather conditions were poor.
We have PLENTY of “pollinators” out in our yard right now. So, in trying to explain to people when they ask me about a decline in native pollinators, I have a few points I like to throw out for consideration.
1) honey bees are poor pollinators to keep on the island. It has to be above 50 degrees for them to come out of the hive.
2) native flies and other insects like moths (which fly at night and we don’t typically see) are better at pollinating in cooler temperatures. While they also won’t be out if it’s rainy and super cold, they can fly in temperature ranges lower than 50 degrees F.
3) the critical importance of native pollinators may not be in their “pollination” services – but their role as pest predators and/or role in the food cycle for other organisms, and for creating biodiversity in our ecosystem, which helps keep everything healthier. I think this part is important. If you look at some of the plants we put in our gardens (native perennials), they actually do not require pollination to survive and reproduce, but do offer pollen and nectar to many insects, spiders, and hummingbirds. Looking further at the food web, we need a variety of native insects for more than pollination. Tachinid flies, syrphid flies, solitary wasps, ants, and even spiders can be pollinators, but also help regulate populations of orchard, garden, and forest pests.
My take on all of this is as humans, our focus has largely been on how to grow food over environmental conservation and maintaining balanced, functioning ecosystems. With climate change, many of our food growing operations may fail. Our fruit trees (at least none that I know of) are not native. In spite of the best intentions, conditions may decline to a point where we can’t produce great fruit here. Weather is only one limiting factor. We have poor soils or no soil in many locations, limited water resources, and the pressures of continuing development resulting in loss of natural habitats. I don’t have the answers for you when it comes to fruit production or any way to personally mitigate climate change, so we may have to figure out a substitute for growing apples, plums, and such.
Let’s go back to the importance of native pollinators though. If you think of our island as a living organism with many different functions, it is important to have all the essential pieces to keep the “body” healthy. These native pollinators (and the native plants they visit), and all the other myriad species of invertebrates, fungi, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, soil, water, etc. are all part of the “body,” a body that has to fight off occasional or repeated assaults from being thrown off balance by exposures to external forces. Just like we need a variety of foods and minerals and other things to keep our body healthy, so does an ecosystem. We need all of these pieces (and that includes our native pollinators and all the other diverse species) to keep our island home healthy.
As to the fruit trees and other food crops requiring pollination, for now, some of these issues can be mediated by planting around your orchard and garden with plenty of diverse native species and providing habitat for all of these native species to develop. Some of our practices of cleaning and sanitizing our orchards and gardens, burning yard clippings, and applying fertilizers and pesticides can adversely affect the biodiversity needed to help our food production thrive.
I imagine it can be frustrating to see an orchard fail to produce fruit. My grandparents were tenant farmers and wholly dependent on growing cotton and corn and the bit of garden and livestock they had around the home on the property they did not own. When it was a drought year, and crops failed, things were utterly miserable. Destitute would be a better adjective. I believe we may have an inherent desire to be “part of the land,” and grow our own food, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, conditions aren’t favorable. Crops fail. Historically, we have tried (and failed) to control some of these external forces – like applying pesticides in amounts that probably will poison us forever.
I’ve gone way beyond the “pollinator” topic here, but it is next to impossible for me to see a one-dimensional issue. We have a much larger and more complex picture before us. How do we either re-create or maintain a healthy functioning system, navigate the perils of climate change, and feed ourselves? I like to believe that protecting diversity in our ecosystems is an important facet of this complex, multi-layered crisis we face.
I found this little green beetle (and another sad little black and yellow beetle missing its antennae) in the pool yesterday. The black and yellow beetle is alive and… well, sort of living in a special habitat right now because of those missing antennae.
The green one was completely waterlogged and lifeless. I had left it on the table next to Drago’s enclosure last night, thinking I’d pin it and keep it in my collection. I am SO GLAD I DIDN’T stick it with a pin! This morning, I found it moving those little legs around at me. It was alive! RIP woke up.
This is a Golden Buprestid Beetle (Buprestis aurulenta). They are a native species in the Pacific Northwest. I have referred to them often as the Rip Van Winkle beetle because they take such a long time to develop from egg to adult. In fact, the record is 51 years!
Why so long? Well, the developmental time depends a lot on the quality of what they’re eating (they develop in dead or dying trees) and miscellaneous environmental factors. When they come out as an adult, they leave behind a little oval hole. I think it adds character to your wood trim if you have them “sleeping” in timber used to build your house.
We had one in our door trim that didn’t make it all the way out and probably had been stuck for awhile before I noticed. It became a fascinating object to show anyone who came to visit our home.
I’m not sure what gives them this beautiful iridescence, but they are undeniably one of nature’s jewels, thus the name “Jewel” Beetle.
The Western Tent Caterpillar is probably one of the most studied and also one of the most loathed insects in the Pacific Northwest. I’m hoping to change attitudes by shining a light on some of the ecological facets of the species and how it connects to the larger food web. We often deem something a pest before really considering the whole picture. Is there anything good about a caterpillar eating leaves off a tree? It depends on a lot of factors. Why not take time to examine the web…and I’m not referring to the tent here either.
It was just last week in my community (San Juan Island), that I heard a story about a woman who fell and hit her head after getting on a ladder to BURN the tent caterpillars out of her fruit trees. Hmmm. Please don’t try this at home. It isn’t safe. Burning the tents out of trees can actually do more damage to the tree than the caterpillars do by eating the leaves.
The photos below show something that happens to the tent caterpillars we may not notice in our panic to eradicate them from our trees. The egg on the caterpillar was laid by a parasitic Tachinid fly. It chose the head, so the caterpillar can’t chew it off its body. The egg is shed when the caterpillar molts, but the fly is already developing inside the caterpillar. It will literally eat the caterpillar from the inside out. So, when you clip off those tents and throw them into the fire, you are also killing the natural and best pest predators along with them. Naturus interruptus! We do more harm than good by intervening.
The Western Tent Moth caterpillars are affected by a few other parasitoids. Braconid wasps also attack them. Some lay eggs on the cocoons. There is also a nucleopolyhedrovirus that infects them when populations are high. In my rush to get this out, I may come back and edit, but I’ve referenced lots of great information below so you can read more about this on your own.
To add to all of this, over the weekend, my daughter and I found some tents in the orchard trees on our property. I might just be the ONLY resident in the San Juans excited to see them. Hmmm. Well, what I found was even more interesting. The tents had dead caterpillars inside and living family groups of earwigs. We also found a super cute jumping spider!
I was curious about this because earwigs are known to be garden pests, I did find some studies about earwigs that are PREDATORY on species of Lepidoptera. While these studies addressed other species of moths, the gist was that the plant species sends out a chemical signal that calls pest predators when it is being attacked by caterpillars. Every plant and pest predator sends and responds (respectively) to various signals, some very specific to each relationship. The plant is calling in the army! It may not always be earwigs, but there are wasps, flies, and others that come to aid the plant when it is under attack. Yes, it is very cool!!!
Oh, and those Western Tent Caterpillars turn into adult moths in mid summer. They are attracted to light. Turn off your outdoor lights. Nature will thank you and you will be less attractive to the mating moths. Many moth species also tend to fly off en-masse when they are mate seeking. These periodic, seasonal pulses of terrestrial invertebrates in our region end up in nearshore marine habitats when they fly out over the ocean.
Various studies have surveyed the stomach contents of Chinook and Coho Salmon, and other fishes in nearshore marine habitats during their first year at sea. Two studies I found reported finding Western Tent Moths and Spruce Budworm Moths (species considered as pests in northern boreal forests) in sampled gut contents. Brodeur et al., (1987) reported the following from one survey, “The incidence of several juvenile coho collected after the storm which had stomachs that were distended with over 100 of these insects exemplifies the ability of these juvenile coho to readily exploit these allochthonous inputs into the marine environment.” They were referring to the “pest” species, (Choristoneura occidentalis) or Spruce Budworm Moth in this instance. In Brennan et al. (2002), sampling of salmon in Central Puget Sound found insect prey included Western Tent Moths (Malocosoma sp.), and that “Lepidoptera in 2002 diets were gravimetrically dominated by tent caterpillar moths (Malocosoma sp.) 51% of Lepidoptera category by weight.” They also reported that Lepidoptera in their samples “were only abundant in 2002.” Coincidentally perhaps, this was a year of a recorded outbreak of tent caterpillars in WA state.
Other studies acknowledge terrestrial invertebrates as a better quality food than marine crustaceans for developing salmon. Periodic, cyclic, or seasonal events resulting in abundant insect flotsam in marine habitats may be missed, or difficult to record, but undoubtedly play a role in feeding fish in nearshore marine habitats.
Take away point here. Even bugs we see as pests have a role in ecosystems. Salmon and other species of wildlife don’t have grocery stores to visit when they need a meal. They rely on seasonal and periodic availability of food. It’s all they have, and it’s important for us to appreciate that.
Please take a moment to scroll through some of the photos below. Definitely check out the fantastic animation by April Randall about the adult moths flying out over the shoreline and being eaten by salmon! Don’t miss checking out those references and reading material too. If you are curious to know more, shoot me an email and I’m happy to send you literature for further reading.
References and Further Reading
Bell, K., Naranjo-Guevara, N., Santos, R., Meadow, R., & Bento, J. (2020). Predatory Earwigs are Attracted by Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatiles Linked with Plant Growth-Promoting Rhizobacteria. Insects, 11(5), 271. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11050271
Cooper, Dawn & Cory, Jenny & Theilmann, David & Myers, Judith. (2003). Nucleopolyhedroviruses of forest and western tent caterpillars: Cross-infectivity and evidence for activation of latent virus in high-density field populations. Ecological Entomology. 28. 41 – 50. 10.1046/j.1365-2311.2003.00474.x.
Furniss RL, Carolin VM. 1977. Western forest insects. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C. Miscellaneous Publication 1339. 654 p.
Knight, G. A.; Lavigne, R. J.; and Pogue, M. G. 1991. “The Parasitoid Complex of Forest Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma Disstria (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae), in Eastern Wyoming Shelterbelts,” The Great Lakes Entomologist, vol 24 (4) Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/tgle/vol24/iss4/7
Rodstrom, R & Resources, Greenwood & Portland, Oregon & John, J & Brown, John. (2017). FOREST AND WESTERN TENT CATERPILLARS Insect Pest Management in Hybrid Poplars Series. 10.13140/RG.2.2.24262.37442.
Witter JA, Kuhlman HM. 1972. A review of the parasites and predators of tent caterpillars (Malacosoma spp.) in North America. Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. Technical Bulletin 289. 48 p.
Additional References***Updated 06.23.2022
Brennan, J.S., K.F. Higgins, J.R. Cordell, and V.A. Stamatiou. 2004. Juvenile Salmon Composition, Timing Distribution, and Diet in Marine Nearshore Waters of Central Puget Sound in 2001-2002. King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Seattle Wa. 164pp.
Brodeur, R. D., Mundy, B. C., Pearcy, W. G., & Wisseman, R. W. 1987. The neustonic fauna in coastal waters of the northeast Pacific: abundance, distribution, and utilization by juvenile salmonids. Oregon State University Publication ORESU-T-87-001.
Brodeur, R. D. (1989). Neustonic feeding by juvenile salmonids in coastal waters of the Northeast Pacific. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 67(8), 1995-2007.
Brodeur, R. D., Lorz, H. V., & Pearcy, W. G. (1987). Food habits and dietary variability of pelagic nekton off Oregon and Washington, 1979-1984. NOAA Technical Report NMFS 57. U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.
Cheng L, Birch M. 2008. Insect flotsam: an unstudied marine resource. Ecol Entomol 3:87–97.
Cheng L. 1975. Marine pleuston: animals at the sea-air interface. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev. 13:181–212.
Cheng, L., M. C. Birch. 2009. Terrestrial insects at sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 57, 4, (995-997).
DNR TreeLink. Tenting in the Trees. 2012. WSU Extension Puget Sound Stewardship E-Newletter 5:4
Drake, V.A., D. R. Reynolds, Radar Entomology: Observing Insect Flight and Migration (CABI, Wallingford, UK, 2012).
Duffy, E.J., D.A. Beauchamp, R. Sweeting, R. Beamish, and J. Brennan. 2010. Ontogenetic diet shifts of juvenile Chinook salmon in nearshore and offshore habitats of Puget Sound. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 139:803-823.
Glick P. 1939. The distribution of insects, spiders, and mites in the air. Washington D.C.: US Department of Agriculture.
Green K., 2011. The transport of nutrients and energy into the Australian Snowy Mountains by migrating bogong moths Agrotis infusa. Austral. Ecol.36, 25–34.
Gutierrez, L. 2011. Terrestrial invertebrate prey for juvenile Chinook salmon: Abundance and environmental controls on an interior Alaskan river. MS Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK.
Hardy AC, Cheng L. 1986. Studies in the distribution of insects by aerial currents. III. Insect drift over the sea. Ecol Entomol. 113:283–90.
Helm RR. 2021. The mysterious ecosystem at the ocean’s surface. Plos Biology. Apr;19(4):e3001046.
Holland RA, Wikelski M, Wilcove DS. How and why do insects migrate? Science. 2006 Aug 11;313(5788):794-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1127272. PMID: 16902129.
Hu G, Lim KS, Horvitz N, Clark SJ, Reynolds DR, Sapir N, Chapman JW. Mass seasonal bioflows of high-flying insect migrants. Science. 2016 Dec 23;354(6319):1584-1587. doi: 10.1126/science.aah4379. PMID: 28008067.
Landry J. S., Parrott L., Could the lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects lead to consequential landscape-scale effects? Ecosphere7, e01265 (2016).
Locke, A., S. Corey. 1986. Terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates in the neuston of the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 64(7): 1535-1541. https://doi.org/10.1139/z86-228
Satterfield, Dara & Sillett, T & Chapman, Jason & Altizer, Sonia & Marra, Peter. 2020. Seasonal insect migrations: massive, influential, and overlooked. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 18. 10.1002/fee.2217.
Did you know spiders don’t just eat bugs? That’s right! You can amaze your friends when you share your knowledge about our eight-legged friends chowing down at the salad bar.
Researchers have observed various species of spiders (over 60 species worldwide) feeding on plant foods to supplement their invertebrate prey (Nyffeler et al. 2016). What exactly does this mean? Are they going to eat the leaves of your garden plants? Nah! Not to worry. They are primarily pest predators in your garden – little helpers to keep those aphids away.
Spiders have long been thought to only consume insects and other invertebrates. However, in recent studies, we are finding this isn’t entirely the case. Observations of spiders foraging in nature has broadened our understanding of the diets of our arachnid friends. Our prior assumptions were incorrect. Spiders actually eat pollen grains, floral and extra-floral nectar, Beltian and Müllerian bodies (structures produced by plants on their leaf tips or petioles, plant sap, honeydew (a plant-derived sugar produced by homopteran insects like aphids), seeds, spores, and even the vegetative material in the guts of their invertebrate prey (Nyffeler et al. 2016).
I found several papers on this topic, but one of the most interesting to me talked about how pollen is an important source of protein for spiders in early spring when prey may be scarce. It also pointed out that pollen is a critical food source for newly hatched spiderlings. Baby Orbweavers for instance. We have these here in the San Juans. They are delightful!
Well, since the pollen floats through the air, quite a lot will stick to webs, landing exactly where the little spiders can easily access it. Smith and Mommsen (1984) even found that Orb Weaver spiderlings doubled their life expectancy by eating pollen. Eggs and Sanders (2013) concur that pollen is an important dietary supplement for Orb Weaver spiders and found that juvenile orb weaving spiders’ diets consist of approximately 25% pollen.
So, now you know! Our little spider friends, or some of them at least, are more complex than we knew. It’s a good reminder about how important it is to eat a varied and healthy diet. We can put this into practice ourselves. Good nutrition is vital for health and survival – for all living beings.
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!
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. “
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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