I found another “new-to-me” bug on the island the other afternoon. This fly was a surprise. It is really small at about 3mm, with big red eyes, and clear wings with a little black dot on each one . Guess what? It’s a SWD! That’s the abbreviated form of Spotted-Wing-Drosophila or Drosophila suzukii (also sometimes called the Vinegar Fly). I’m attaching an info. sheet here for you to reference http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/fruit/flies/drosophila_suzukii.htm
It’s amazing how quickly the SWD fly can reproduce. I’m curious as to whether they’ve been seen out and about by other folks on San Juan. We have an apple orchard, but honestly, I didn’t check the fruit this year for pests and I wouldn’t use spray anyway because I love our birds. We’ve had lots of chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos in our trees, as well as gorgeous round orb weaver spiders in the garden and around the house, so I’m banking on them keeping these (and other) insects categorized as pests in check.
I had a feeling today was going to be one of THOSE days, but really had no idea how bad it would get. This time of year on the island, we’ve lost our sunshine and are headed into the Time of DARKNESS. I have no idea who got away with marketing the “Sunny San Juan’s!” They advertise that HERE is the special place where you’ll have a whopping 247 Days of Sunshine, but that is just WRONG!
This statistic has been creatively manipulated and someone got away counting an entire day of sunshine when the sun maybe, just MAYBE peeks out for a whole 5 minutes. Yep, two bits of advice I received when I moved here was 1) if the sun is out at all anytime between October and April, go outside and, 2) get a raincoat.
But I digress from the events of the day! So, being under the umbrella of COVID, I hardly ever, go to town anymore. There is the likelihood that I might venture out only once during the week for a grocery/mail run. Well, that was today.
I stopped first at the post office. There was the now normal line winding down the hall. I waited my turn patiently. It’s an island and I’ve learned to be on island time. There’s always someone who hasn’t yet learned this yet, and that was the guy in line ahead of me.
He was complaining loudly. He went into the office even though the sign clearly states “only THREE people at a time.” Poor postal staff had to point this out. His reaction? Well, you might ask that. He was even louder about having to WAIT and HE had MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO!
“J” whispered to me when it was my turn at the counter, “Did you HEAR that guy?” I nodded my head, commenting “there’s always one!” Little did I know there was one more someone who would be breaking the RULES.
My next stop was to grab a spider left for me at my husband’s office. A pumpkin-colored Orb Weaver. I love spiders!!! After collecting my 8-legged friend, I made my next stop at the Market.
At this point, I’m feeling a bit scattered. I have my purse, keys in hand, my “list” of things I need to pick up for the next few nights of dinners, and I walk across the parking lot and into the store. The next thing I hear is “MA’am, Ma’am!” I looked towards the voice and all of a sudden the sound is ringing in my ears as I realize the “Ma’am” is meant for ME.
“You forgot your mask,” the store employee is saying as she walks in my direction! I feel my face, groping for my mask, that I JUST HAD ON at the post office, which seemingly has disintegrated, leaving feeling the equivalent of walking into the store NAKED.
I was MORTIFIED!!! Thankfully she handed me a mask as I pretty much just stood there, unable to move. “Don’t worry,” says another clerk. “People all over the island are pretty much losing it. You’re not the first!” I feel marginally better, but not much.
Somehow I managed to finish my shopping, check out, and make it back to my vehicle. I called my daughter on the way home. Hands free. She tried to make me feel better and we had a good laugh about it.
“It’s getting to everyone! ”she says. Then, “I am starting to feel like there’s no point in figuring out what I want to do with my life, because I really wonder if we are going to have a LIFE after all of this.” I want to tell her it will be fine, but even though we joke about it, there is really nothing funny about the state of the world…OUR world. I find myself wanting to tell her to take up retail therapy to make herself feel better. Exactly how much is the limit on that credit card?
My daughter asked if I got my ballot at the post office. Then, she laughed and told me her friend, who says he ISN’T voting because he hates both parties wrote in FIDEL CASTRO and dropped his ballot in the box. Yes, I do believe folks are losing it! Big time.
Oh, and here are some photos of that lovely Orb Weaver I brought home (and released). This spider is Araneus diadematus, one commonly seen about in early fall. Now that I’m back in my “safe” zone, I can focus on Bugs that don’t require me to wear a mask!
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 –
Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!
I found one of these several years ago (September 20, 2017 to be exact), so I recognized it immediately when I saw it squirming in the spider webbing along the house this morning. My husband said I should just leave it alone. “Nature is ugly sometimes and you can’t interfere.” Well, when it was still there four hours later, suspended mid air, and still squirming, my tendency to SAVE things kicked in. The spider living above that web was actually dead. I’m not feeling very guilty about stealing food from a dead spider.
I got a cup and gently pulled at the web and began the process of freeing this caterpillar. It took finding my reading glasses and getting some fine-pointed tools to gently ply away the sticky bonds and clean the strands off the caterpillar hairs.
I think it looks pretty good! I even picked it some dinner and we’ll see if I can keep it healthy through pupation and adulthood.
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.
Today, I’m going to introduce you to Rod Crawford in my post. Rod is the curator and spider expert (GENIUS) at the Burke Museum in Seattle. He is the go-to guy for anything you would possibly want to know about spiders.
One thing I really like about Rod are his efforts to debunk some of the most common myths about spiders. For instance, putting that spider you find in your house outdoors is good for the spider and where it belongs. Nope. Nope. Nope,….and one more big ole’ NOPE! Take a look here to read what Rod says about where some spiders live (including indoors), and why tossing them outdoors is not a good idea.
Last night I spied this sweet little Pholcid spidee mom-to-be in the corner of our bedroom. Pholicid is short for Pholcidae, the Cellar spiders. These are the spiders we know colloquially as Daddy Long Legs or in her case, Mommy Long Legs. Not to be confused with the other sort of Daddy/Mommy Long Legs, the Harvestmen, which actually aren’t spiders at all!
This little “she” spider is most likely Pholcus phalangioides. My photos aren’t great. I was standing on a chair holding my phone out as long as my arm would reach to try and get a picture, but didn’t want to disturb her too much.
If you look closely, you’ll see she is carrying her eggs in her mouth. These eggs are carefully held in a delicate silk net until they hatch. Even after hatching, the teeny little spiderlings are carried around in their mother’s mouth until they are able to venture off on their own.
Pholcus phalangioides spiders are often found inside homes or structures, make untidy, haphazard webs, are great at catching pests in your home, including other spiders! Males live for about a year, dying usually after mating. Females can reach the very old age of 3. That’s quite a long time to have a spider in your home.
There could be a few reasons you’re finding that spider in your sink or bathtub or shower!
Reason #1 – Lots of spiders are nocturnal, so while we’re sleeping they’re stealthily crossing the ceiling overhead. Sometimes one may bungee down to check things out below. If that happens to be over the tub, it’s possible the poor little (or BIG) spider just got stuck, unable to scale the walls of a slippery surface.
Same thing with the kitchen sink. A spider scurries across the counter too fast, one of those 8 legs slips or maybe a knee buckles (yes, spiders have knees), and the next thing that spider is facing is our equivalent of falling down into a deep well.
He…or SHE, needs someone to throw in a lifeline to get back out.
Reason #2 – Sometimes…yes, sometimes spiders end up in your tub or shower or sink because deep in the cracks or seals around the shower door or down in the drain, you have these teeny little spider snacks squirming around. That’s right! You might not see them, but even if your shower is squeaky clean, you probably have drain fly larvae living in your pipes.
Yikes! I got into our shower one morning and there were these teeny little wiggly worms down at my feet. When I poked around the rubber strip that prevents water from leaking out the shower door, there were MORE!
To help you visualize this, I’ll try and get creative. I’m not a very good drawer, so I scribbled in the wriggling larvae to enhance this image I found online. In my mind, I pictured the woman in the movie Psycho, screaming at the top of her lungs since the scientific name for drainflies is Pscho-di-dae!
The adults aren’t scary looking at all though. They’re called Moth Flies and they are sort of cute…and fuzzy-wuzzy! The larvae, also called sewer flies, actually are beneficial and help purify water, so I am viewing them now as an important part of an ecosystem while trying to get over being creeped out by them around my feet.
I also am much more welcoming to my house spiders now that I know they are working hard to save me from DRAIN FLIES!
Reason #3 – Did you know that spiders drink water? Yes…sometimes spiders end up in the sink, bathtub, or shower because spiders get thirsty! I actually had a little spider I found in my home that was in a declining way and Rod Crawford (also known as the Spider Whisperer) at the Burke Museum messaged me about how to give it a drink. Here’s what he said, “For future reference, the way to give a spider a drink is to rest the mouth area (under the front of the “head”) directly in a drop of water.” I must confess that now I’m so sensitive to spiders needing water that whenever I get one out of the bathtub, I’ve put a moistened cotton ball on the floor nearby so it won’t die of thirst!
Today is the first day of September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans. I’m excited about seeing those “spidee” photos and learning together about some of the very cool things that spiders do. We’re also going to conquer any FEARS of spiders and to start off, I’m going to post a link so you can discover Lucas the Spider. If you don’t know about Lucas, he is the cutest spider in the world, AND he wants to be your friend. *Kid and Adult Friendly!
A neighbor sent me this video footage late last night. She asks, “Why are all the black and yellow bumble bees on the ground dying?” This occurred locally at an island lavender farm where the bumble bees are LOVED and no one is applying any pesticides. In the video you can certainly see the bees she refers to. Why only those?
The dying bees are the lovely Yellow-Faced bumble bees, Bombus vosnesenskii. I personally appreciate these because not only are they avid tomato pollinators, but they have such adorably chubby and fuzzy bodies with a yellow face and a yellow band around their little black bottom.
Bumble bees are cavity nesters. Many will select an empty mouse burrow in the ground to create their nest. The fertilized queen overwinters and begins her colony in late March or early April, foraging for herself and the eggs she laid that would soon hatch into larvae needing to be fed.
In order to obtain nutrients necessary for survival, bumble bee foragers can travel long distances (up to 11 miles), especially here as our growing season ends in summer. Right now, they are visiting the lavender in bloom.
These poor bees are most likely victims of pesticide. The fact that all of them are the same species, at the same location, indicates to me that someone applied pesticide at their nest site, likely a property owner within foraging distance of the worker bees visiting the lavender farm. The workers dispersed from the nest to try to do what they are programmed to do (forage for food), but simply succumbed to the toxic residues that some fearful homeowner applied.
“I can’t have bees in my yard!” “I’m allergic.” “I have pets.” “I hate insects.” “It could be murder hornets.”
Do you want to have food?
If you, as a homeowner, continue spraying your yard every time you see a bee and can’t learn to live with them, you are going to be the end of all of us. Bumble bees are some of our most important agricultural pollinators. More important than honey bees!
The dying bees in this video are native bees. “Native” means they are adapted to this environment. They have the ability to survive here better than European honey bees (Apis mellifera) which are not native. Honey bees were transported to North America by Europeans who brought sheep, cattle, swine, and other domesticated species to this continent.
Back to the over-sensationalized “murder hornets.” This term makes me angry! 😡 The media hype is much like the hype over the mantids that are going to eat our hummingbirds ! Just because it is printed in the paper doesn’t mean it is the whole truth or entirely accurate. The primary reason the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is of concern is their ability to kill European honey bees (Apis mellifera), an agricultural commodity. To read some of the news stories, you’d think we were dealing with Africanized Bees…remember those?
It is possible Vespa mandarinia will not survive here. They aren’t native. They will be susceptible to parasites, and viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases (not unlike the same problems our non-native European honey bees face) potentially making it difficult for populations to establish themselves. We could also, as many Asians do, learn to eat them. Yes, do read the publication about them in my references section!
Please put that can of pesticide away. Don’t spray. If you are truly afraid of bees, then educate yourself about how to live alongside them. First off, don’t wear shades of blue or black colors when you’re near an area that has bees. Bumble bees and honey bees are attracted to these colors. Avoid wearing fragrances. Wash your clothing in unscented detergent and avoid using those noxious, heavily scented dryer sheets. Finally, if you do see an insect that you believe is the Asian Giant Hornet, take a photo or collect the specimen if it is already dead and contact WSU following these guidelines.
In Washington State only, people should report potential sightings of the AGH through the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s website. Outside of Washington, contact your state apiary inspector. If it is safe to do so, take a photo or collect a dead specimen of the pest to help experts identify the insect.
In the meantime, please don’t fall victim to media hype and do your best not to murder innocent bumble bees!
John M. Mola, Neal M. Williams. (2019) A review of methods for the study of bumble bee movement. Apidologie 56.
Jha, Shalene, and Claire Kremen. (2019) Resource diversity and landscape-level homogeneity drive native bee foraging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 110,2: 555-8. doi:10.1073/pnas.1208682110
Sujaya Rao, George Hoffman, Julie Kirby & Danielle Horne (2019) Remarkable long-distance returns to a forage patch by artificially displaced wild bumble bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae), Journal of Apicultural Research, 58:4, 522-530, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2019.1584962