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A very spidrous summer planned

IMG_7051So this is where I find myself: I am currently employed as a field assistant to my partner Catherine Scott, as she spends the spring and summer of 2016 doing thesis research on Vancouver Island. Over the winter and early spring, I had several interviews for postdoc positions, but ultimately did not get any offers. I am still in the market, as this field gig is not paying much, but this is where my employment situation stands.

Dang, that’s a long trip!

The fieldwork may not pay much, but it sure has been exciting. The first stage of the work involved a ridiculously long roadtrip from Toronto to Texas, and out to LA, up the coast and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Our objective in this was threefold: 1) we had to collect some  beautiful “Texas widows”, a variety of  western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus) for later lab research, and 2) we had to attend a wedding in Los Angeles and 3) we needed to get our vehicle to BC for the fieldwork.

Of course, this roadtrip was a great opportunity to get some cool shots of the natural world along the way. In the following shots, you will get a taste of what we encountered.

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Catherine taking notes on spiders we collected.

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Joseph Lapp, an arachnologist in Austin graciously took us out for some spidering and lunch near the UT Austin field station. We met up with many great people along the way, including Bekka Brodie and Viorel Popescu in Athens OH (former labmates), Alex Wild in Austin, Terry McGlynn in Pasadena, Christy Pitto in southern Oregon, and Thomas Shahan and Kathleen Neeley in northern Oregon, who spent the day with us shooting photos and wandering the canyons. I apologize for not taking more people pictures!

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Catherine collects a Texas widow in the boonies of southern Texas.

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Here is what the Texas widows look like: the adult females retain the juvenile colour pattern, with flamboyant reds and yellows on the dorsal surface of the abdomen. The extent of this red varies, but this is pretty typical.

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Southern Texas is awesome for birds. We saw a great many Crested Caracaras, which was a big highlight of the trip. I last saw these birds in Guyana.

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We got to see 3 species of recluse spider. This one is the Big Bend recluse, found about 100 km east of the Pecos River valley.

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Another highlight was finding Scytodes spitting spiders. We saw both Scytodes thoracica as well as this unknown (to us) species from southern Texas.

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In the Seminole Canyon, we found the only Aphonopelma tarantula we saw on the trip.

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It was extremely frustrating to have to burn through Arizona and New Mexico to get to the wedding, as there is absolutely stunning mountains and countryside to explore. Here we are passing by a wonderful region…

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After the wedding in LA, we got some opportunity to change the oil, hang out with Terry McGlynn and see some hawks at Palos Verdes.

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In Laguna Seca, near Monterey CA

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The beautiful Diaea livens, a green crab spider found on oaks in California.

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In Monterey, we met up with the invasive Badumna longinqua, a desid spider that makes messy cribellate capture webs very close to the ocean.

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While searching for Badumna near the docks in Monterey, we came upon this sea lion chilling out. They are really quite tame in the harbours!

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The $500 spidermobile passes north through the Golden Gate

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Out for the day with Christy Pitto, at the headwaters of the Rogue River in southern Oregon, we found this beautiful Tibellus, and I found a new angle to shoot it from.

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Our coolest spider find was with Christy Pitto, a gorgeous Mecicobothriid from near her cabin.

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Catherine spidering with awesome macrophotographer Thomas Shahan in Salem, OR

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Catherine giving an impromptu spider lecture to Thomas Shahan and Kathleen Neeley. The $500 spidermobile is in the background.

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We embark on the MV Coho from Port Angeles to Victoria

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Catherine in the field at Island View Beach. We are working on the lands of the Tsawout First Nation, who have a large reserve near Sidney on the Saanich Peninsula.

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initial mapping points for female western black widows we will monitor and observe over the next several months.

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This is what we will be watching this summer: a male black widow courting on the web of a female at Island View Beach

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We will shift to a largely nocturnal schedule to match the widows. Here Catherine observes courtship on the beach.

 

 

 

Weekend Expedition 69: A muddy slog in Crother’s Woods

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Sunday afternoon was warm and sunny, but when Catherine and I went out to Crother’s Woods, the forest was sodden and mucky. Nonetheless, we set out for a short stroll, looking under bark of fallen trees and in the leaf litter for creatures…

So have a gander at what we found!

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We found a bunch of Bassaniana (now Coriarachne) bark crab spiders overwintering in bark crevices. These are extremely cryptic on bark, and are probably very abundant all up a tree.

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These bark crab spiders have very robust forelegs, and likely can take relatively large prey.

These bark crab spiders are extremely flat!

These bark crab spiders are extremely flat!

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This running crab spider (Philodromidae) was also found under bark, along with the Coriarachne.

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Yet another philodromid. I wish we knew the species here!

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Catherine managed to find a sac spider (Clubionidae, likely genus Clubiona) in a sac, also under bark.

This shot shows the sac spider's eye arrangement.

This shot shows the sac spider’s eye arrangement.

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Catherine found this eastern yellowjacket queen under some bark as well. She is overwintering, and we took good care to replace her in an equivalent crevice.

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She was completely motionless, with wings held in a protective posture typical of overwintering yellowjackets. I was interested to see that her wings tuck under the spines on the hind tibiae.

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One of our coolest finds was this minute tree-fungus beetle on a bracket fungus on a birch tree. (family Ciidae,  maybe Ceracis thoracicornis? OK, this is not even a ciid at all! Gil Wizen has informed me this is a tenebrionid, Neomida bicornis!) 

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These beetles tunnel through the tough fungus, and I cannot understand how these forward-facing pronotal spines are helping!

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This beetle was less than 2 mm long, and made my day.

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If anyone out there knows what they use these spines for, please let us know!

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This looks like the larva of a flat bark beetle (Cucujidae) (but wait! It is not! Again, Gil Wizen to the rescue! This is a fire-colored beetle, Neophryochroa femoralis

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A closer crop reveals that the water droplets act as magnifiers, bringing into view structures such as the tracheae, visible through the translucent cuticle (click picture for larger view).

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Like most of the under-bark fauna, these beetles are very flat! Even adult cucujids are very dorso-ventrally flattened.

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Although much of what we saw was above freezing, wood in contact with the soil was still partially frozen, and these isopods were in the midst of ice. Ice-o-pods. Get it? Anyway, we are due for more freezing weather in Toronto, so I hope you have enjoyed these pics…It is not likely we will get any more this week!

Weekend Expedition 63: A very spidrous birthday

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Saturday was Catherine’s birthday, and a very beautiful spring day to boot. Catherine and I spent the morning shopping for a house (yes, the dream finally came true for us! 15.99 at Wild Birds Unlimited!), and then accompanying our labmate Antonia as she conducted rodent experiments at the Bloedel Conservatory, a large dome full of tropical plants and birds. I put out some ant baits, but most of them were eaten by the birds….Not too different than baiting outdoors really.

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Antonia in a sinister light, wielding her implements of murine death.

 

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An African Gray parrot.

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This cockatoo was very solicitous. He asked “how are you?” a great many times!

Catherine and Natalie lurk in the bushes.

 

 

After the tropical tour, Catherine and I took the show on the road, exploring Queen Elizabeth Park for spiders!

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Catherine’s first find! A Phidippus lurking in her retreat!

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With some persuasive stemwork we managed to coax her out for some pictures.

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Such a gorgeous spider!

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The rock walls were full of Salticus scenicus.

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And emerging on the path in front of us was a juvenile Phidippus.

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This is the juvie from the front.

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One of the treasures we found on a rhododendron was this subadult male Araniella displicata, AKA the six-spotted orbweaver.

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The rhododendrons also yielded a large number of juvenile Metaphidippus manni (we think). These coastal forms aren’t as showy as the inland ones, but we will try to rear them to see what they look like as adults. 

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On Sunday, the spidrousness continued, with some Salticus scenicus observations close to home. Here is one with a sizable midge. 

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And here is one attacking a conspecific juvenile. On facebook and twitter, I tried to make like I thought this was a “mama carrying her baby to safety” but no one fell for it.

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Nonetheless, there is something special about jumper on jumper predation. The two sets of eyes are sort of creepy.

So all in all, a really fun birthday outing, and definitely spidrous! Happy birthday Catherine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slender in the grass

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‘”Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.”  -Wordsworth

It seems to me that I have not posted in some time. For various reasons, I have not had much time or energy for photography or blogging recently. I do manage short bursts of inspiration, and I have plans for a few more in-depth posts, but for now I can only offer this gorgeous Tibellus oblongus that I shot the other day while digging for ants.

These slender spiders are members of the Philodromidae, or running crab spiders, and are most at home lying on grasses and slender twigs as ambush predators.

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Here is one I photographed this summer showing her hunting prowess.

 

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Their longitudinal stripes help them blend in with the substrate, and they are quite tricky to spot until they move.

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I found this individual, as well as one more buried in the soil beneath a clump of tall grass.

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I find the lines of these spiders very elegant, and they are definitely pleasing to photograph.

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Next time you are out in a grassy meadow, keep an eye out for these cryptic hunters!

Last Gasp of Arachtober

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For the very last post of Arachtober, I thought I would take some shots of the Halloweeniest spider on the west coast, Dysdera crocata. These orange and red beauties are specialist predators of terrestrial isopods (pillbugs) and have fangs equal to the task of envenomating these armoured prey.  IMG_2658 IMG_2683 IMG_2710 IMG_2712 IMG_2750 IMG_2756

 

Some Arachtober shots and thoughts

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October is a month for spiders, being the time when many of the species which have grown large on summer’s bounty are settling down to lay eggs, or looking for overwintering sites. For spider photographers, it is like golden hour all month! If you search flickr for “Arachtober” you will find the photographic bounty that macrophotographers have amassed.

This Arachtober, I have not really been applying myself to spider photography, although I have made some dedicated efforts to secure shots of black widow defenses (for Catherine’s invited  talk at last weekend’s ESBC conference), or Steatoda males and females, for my friend Chloe Gerak’s award-winning talk at the same conference.

Anyway, here are some shots and thoughts about my Arachtober.

 

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Western black widow throwing silk on Catherine’s finger at Island View Beach.

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Catherine gave a great talk on “dangerous spiders” at the ESBC conference, her first 1/2 hour talk. Her t-shirt (thanks Alex Wild!) serves as a great abstract of the talk.

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Female Steatoda grossa with a bit of backlight highlighting her web. False black widows around here are not very black!

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Chloe after delivering her awesome, award-winning talk entitled “How the false widow finds true love”.

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Male and female Steatoda grossa juxtaposed for comparison.

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A largish sac spider (Clubionidae) showing the large chelicerae typical of the family.

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Putting the light a little behind the spider can help resolve some of the surface details and maintain a bit of mysteriousness at the same time.

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More direct light makes for a less moody feel as the sac spider drinks water on a colourful leaf.

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Arachtober is also a scary time for spiders. Here is an emesine thread-legged bug I found in a spider retreat, where it was likely feeding on spider eggs.

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Fall foliage makes for a wonderful seasonal backdrop for this Hallowe’en spider villain.

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Spider rappelling! A great way to get around.

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When a spider wants to make a long distance traverse between two objects, or just wants a quick way to ascend an obstacle, what can he do? Lets find out by watching a male crab spider.

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Well, as in ballooning, the spider can jet out a thread of silk, letting it be carried by the wind.

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The spider then turns and checks the tension on the web to see if it has snagged a target. In this case, there is no tension, so the spider reels in the thread. I am not sure if crab spiders consume the spent silk.

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Another try, in another direction.

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This time the tension is right, and the spider quickly disappears from the frame.

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And arrives safely at another, more lively flower.