Tag Archives: Arachnid

Musings on the complicated topic of native pollinators, food production, and climate change

Bee Balm, nasturtiums, and Stinky daisies

 

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. 

Resources and Further Reading

Washington Native Plant Society – https://www.wnps.org

Xerces Society – http://www.xerces.org

WSU Extension Master Gardeners of San Juan County – https://extension.wsu.edu/sanjuan/master-gardeners/

Living Jewels of San Juan

Buprestis aurulenta or Golden Buprestid Beetle

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.  

Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta)

Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta


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.

Golden Buprestid stuck in door trim (March 20, 2016)

I’m not sure what gives them this beautiful iridescence, but they are undeniably one of nature’s jewels, thus the name “Jewel” Beetle. 

Golden Buprestid Beetle – San Juan Island 07.27.2022
Golden buprestid set free to fly away in the forest.

References and further reading:

Zeng, Y. 1995. University of Florida Book of Insect Records, Chapter 12 Longest Life Cycle. Department of Entomology & Nematology University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0620 https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/ufbir/files/pdf/UFBIR_Chapter12.pdf

Bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/74029

Nelson, D. 2021. Buprestis aurulenta (Golden Buprestid) 10,000 Things of the Pacific Northwest http://10000thingsofthepnw.com/2021/05/19/buprestis-aurulenta-golden-buprestid/

More on Western Tent Caterpillars (Malocosoma californicum pluviale)

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.

Western Tent Caterpillar with Tachinid Fly egg on head
Western Tent Caterpillars (Malocosoma californicum pluviale) with deceased individuals in background likely affected by nucleopolyhedrovirus 

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!!!

Earwigs and Jumping spider eat tent caterpillars

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.

Thank you!

Malocosoma californicum pluviale with Tachinid fly egg on head
Malocosoma californicum pluviale caterpillars affected by nucleopolyhedrovirus 

Jumping spider eating Malocosoma californicum pluviale caterpillar (photo credit to Alex Maas and artistic rendering by Cynthia Brast-Bormann)
Parasitized Malocosoma californicum pluviale cocoon (Tachinid fly parasite)
Animation by April Randall, Orcas Island

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. Insects11(5), 271. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11050271

Clark, E. C. (1958). Ecology of the Polyhedroses of Tent Caterpillars. Ecology39(1), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.2307/1929975

Ciesla, W. , Ragenovich, I.R. 2008. Western Tent Caterpillar. USDA Forest Insect and Disease Leaflet 119. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev2_042847.pdf

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.

Dahlhoff, V. Woods, A. and B. Larkin. 2019. The Western Tent Caterpillar, Malocosoma californicum pluviale. MPG North Field Notes. https://www.mpgnorth.com/field-notes/2019/08/western-tent-caterpillar-malacosoma-californicum-pluviale

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.

Stehr, F.W. & E.F. Cook 1968. A revision of the genus Malacosoma Hubner in North America (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae): systematics, biology, immatures, and parasites. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, (276): 1-321. https://archive.org/details/bulletinunitedst2761968unit/page/n6/mode/1up?view=theater

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 Zoology67(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 Kingdom57, 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 infusaAustral. 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? Ecosphere 7, e01265 (2016).

Locke, A., S. Corey. 1986. Terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates in the neuston of the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology64(7): 1535-1541. https://doi.org/10.1139/z86-228

Myers, J. 2000. Population fluctuations of the western tent caterpillar in southwestern British Columbia. Popul Ecol 42, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00012002

Peterson, C. 2013. Where Are the Yellow-billed Cuckoos? https://www.birdnote.org/listen/shows/where-are-yellow-billed-cuckoos

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.

Zaitsev, Y. P. (1971). Marine neustonology.

I’ll Have Some Salad Said the Spider! 

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.  

Spiderlings with Pollen Plates
Orb Weaver Spider on Web

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).  

Tree Pollen collected in ground vegetation

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!  

Orb Weaver Spiderlings on my garden chair

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.  

References

Eggs B, Sanders D (2013) Herbivory in Spiders: The Importance of Pollen for Orb-Weavers. PLoS ONE 8(11): e82637. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082637 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082637

Nyffeler, M., Olson, E. J., & Symondson, W. O. C. (2016). Plant-eating by spiders. The Journal of Arachnology44(1), 15–27. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24717357 https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjp9dWF97n3AhXQLTQIHTh1CF0QFnoECBsQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.jstor.org%2Fstable%2F24717357&usg=AOvVaw0mZYSQxF6kMinvaqvgB4UT

Smith RB, Mommsen TP. Pollen feeding in an orb-weaving spider. Science. 1984 Dec 14;226(4680):1330-2. doi: 10.1126/science.226.4680.1330. PMID: 17832631. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.226.4680.1330

“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!  

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