#TeamBlackWidow is back in the field!

This post will be an update on #TeamBlackWidow...As you may have guessed, based on following the #TeamBlackWidow hashtag on Twitter, we have arrived back in BC and are engaged in the early stages of our season’s fieldwork. Catherine and I are set up in a really nice basement suite in a house in the countryside (owned by arachnologists!) and are very much enjoying the new space (compared to our 400 square feet in Toronto).

We have been to our fieldsite several times for reconnaissance and mapping, and have staked out quite a few logs on the southern portion of the beach for observation.

The point prefaced with L2XX are new territory we have mapped out, and are largely not congruent with our 2016 observation sites

So what have we found so far? Well, the spider season this year is much delayed compared to what we saw last year, with no females with egg sacs, and most of the spiders just beginning to fatten up on springtime bees and flies.

Only this past week have we seen any adult males at all, with most males we have found being only penultimate (one molt away from maturity).

The males all have the typical “winter male” form, being larger than summer males, and quite dark, much like an immature female.

By way of comparison, we saw our first mature male and our first egg sac on April 20 of last year. This year, as of today, we have only seen two mature males, and not a single egg sac. The weather has been cool and often rainy, and the widows are off to a slow start.

With these conditions, we have not been focusing on field observations, instead working to prepare a set of experiments to perform before we have to return to Toronto in June.

Catherine loading spiders into field cages, assisted by Darwin, one of the cats who lives here.


A roundup of recent shots


The spider fieldwork Catherine and I have been doing at Island View Beach progresses slowly. Natural history observations and experiments take up most of our nights, but I have still been getting the opportunity to do some photography and arthropod outings here and there. Here is a sampling of some recent shots that I think you might enjoy.


This is Island View Beach, near our fieldwork site. It is a gorgeous beach, and a rare habitat type: dune vegetation is in short supply around here.


One of the rare plants to be found on Island View Beach is the yellow sand verbena, a gorgeous dune plant with lovely-smelling flowers.


This moth, the sand verbena moth (Copablepharon fuscum) depends on the yellow sand verbena, and is endangered. Catherine is working on a blog post about the controversy surrounding this species.


On a recent outing to the beach in the daytime, I was very excited to find this robber fly, which I believe is Laphria franciscana. Wonderful blue eyes!

I have still had my eye out for spiders, and this Misumena vatia with a honeybee was a lovely find in Uplands Park.

I have still had my eye out for spiders, and this Misumena vatia with a honeybee was a lovely find in Uplands Park.


I have been finding some bee flies lately resting on grasses. Here is one I shot with the A720IS.

This Lorquin's Admiral we saw at Island View Beach, resting on a rose bush

This Lorquin’s Admiral we saw at Island View Beach, resting on a rose bush


Nighttime fieldwork on Cordova Spit allowed me to shoot this Ammophila against the darkening sky.


The next morning, I found this purplish copper resting on a dead flower.


I also found a beautiful potter wasp, an insect I do not often see resting on vegetation.


During nightwork on the beach, I found this mother woodlouse with a load of babies.


This sleeping aggregation of Coelioxys and Ammophila was particularly impressive. I wish I had been able to shoot hem at dawn!


Early this morning at Mt. Tolmie, I found this beautiful little cuckoo wasp sleeping on some grass.


A stinkbug against the dawn sky.


This lovely cuckoo bee is either an Epeolus or Triepeolus…I found three of them at Mt. Tolmie this morning.


Weekend Expedition 66: Leslie Spit


We finally made it out to Tommy Thompson Park, AKA Leslie Spit, a natural deposit that has been added to by the City of Toronto with an ongoing filling operation. The terrain is perfect for spider hunting, as it is full of rubble and weedy vegetation. It looks like a wonderful place to explore, and probably offers great habitat for migrant raptors as well. Catherine and I went out to find some spiders, and whatever else there was to be found!


Rubble and weeds! What else could a naturalist ask for!


A gorgeous little garter snake!


A tiny philodromid, hanging out on grass



Awesomely cryptic crab spider (Thomisidae) on a Queen Anne’s Lace


Tough to notice these!


Probably the most impressive spider find of the day, a big Amaurobiid we found under rubble


Chelicerae to die for!


This big gal was very cooperative for photos


Was super excited to find my first Canadian Crematogaster colony! Check out the awesome spider in there, which Catherine has a post on!


I reckon this to be Crematogaster cerasi, due the two prominent hairs on the pronotum. A mostly tropical myrmecine genus, this is one of two Canadian species.


Here is an amaurobiid with an eggsac


And a giant house spider (Eratigena atrica) with eggs.


A very bright woodlouse.


A beautiful Pardosa, much like we found last week at Humber Bay.


Catherine after a few hours of spidering!

An Arachtober Spider Outing


My smartphone sucks, probably as much as my smartphone photography technique!

On a bright sunny Sunday afternoon, Catherine and I made our suburban shopping rounds to keep ourselves fed (downtown Toronto is bloody expensive!), and then headed out to Humber Bay to find some spiders!


All over the beach we found these awesome gray wolves…Perhaps a Pardosa? Probably. There are a bunch of dark Pardosa in these parts. 


Getting them to pause for a photo was tough, as they were warm and in the mood to run.


This Hogna-like wolf spider was much more accomodating! Super pretty as well.


These spiders are difficult for non-experts to ID…I sent the pictures to an awesome wolf spider identifier I know, but I am not sure if she will respond.


A juvenile Phidippus audax, with surprisingly orange spectacles!


We found a few of these araneids, which we figure to be Zygiella atrica, and introduced one from Europe


Here is the male of Zygiella atrica, which we found adjacent to a female’s web.


The characteristic orb web of Zygiella. Note the missing sector at the top left.


A Philodromid looks awesome on a fall leaf.


Catherine found a few Larinioides hiding out in leaves.


Near a lighted building, we found our expected plethora of tetragnathids and Larinioides in almost communal webs. We also found a bunch of tiny dictynids, which I did not get any shots of.


Some of the Larinioides were quite light in colour. We need to collect a few sometime, as there are a couple species here in Toronto.


We even found a big old Castianeira, who seemed to be doing quite well living under the lights!


Agapostemon aggregations!!!


OK, where we last left off, I was at Humber Bay on Saturday morning, looking for some sleeping hymenopterans. Other than the Polistes, I was not having much luck, but after the dawn light had past, I wandered a bit inland from the shore, and found this:


Yep! Your eyes are not deceiving you! That is a cluster of sleeping male Agapostemon virescens, one of the most beautiful solitary bees. I have a soft spot for shiny insects, and these bright little jewels fit the bill.


On Saturday, I found at least 4 such clusters, each on a mature Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), and the largest cluster having about 40 bees within.


I tried many different types of shots, with the 35 and the 100 mm, but it was somewhat frustrating as it was windy, the sky was uniform blue, and the bees were waking up.


I knew I would have to come again at dawn to catch these against the dawn sky….


On Sunday I returned, this time knowing what to look for.

I photographed a couple of clusters, changing angle and lighting to change the mood.

On this one, note the snail appearing over the top edge…It seems to be in many of the subsequent frames.


Here is one with a diffused light from the left only.


And with the reflected sun from the water. The Canon 100 mm (non-L) doesn’t do highlights nicely!


That snail is really making the rounds!


The bees are starting to disperse, and the snail is exploring its options.


Before they all left, I took the time to get a closeup.


One on the finger!


Later in the day, I saw them going about their business as normal. I have read that these bees do this type of aggregated sleeping, and I had dreamed about it, but have never seen pictures of it before!

In Toronto!


Again I must apologizing for the lack of posts recently. Catherine and I have arrived safe and sound in Toronto, and are installed in our new apartment downtown. I was not very prolific with the photography on our drive across the country, but here is a brief photo chronicle to fill everyone in…This story starts in BC and ends in a cliffhanger here in Toronto, so bear with me!


Some of the last of BC’s mountains we saw, near Mt. Robson


We were both relieved that the killer storm that had followed us from Vancouver was behind us!


In Jasper, the elk were on hand to say farewell.


After stopping in Edmonton to see friends, we went to see if we could see some bison on the lone prairie. Sure enough, there were some!


Bury me not here…I think I would rather be buried in the rainforest. Or at least fed to the vultures!


In Northern Ontario, which is actually most of Canada, we just had to stop here!


Arriving south of Sioux St. Marie, we spied this awesome Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).


And here we are in our new digs!


This is the view from our new place.


I did not really do a lot of shooting in the first week or so we were here, but did get a few pic in when I went to visit Catherine’s new lab in Scarborough. Here is a beautiful male Pelegrina proterva


And an Eastern yellowjacket killed by a crab


Here in the east, there are a lot more membracids to be found. This is Campylenchia latipes


The other exciting thing to be found is a lot more agelenids on vegetation. This is some kind of Agelenopsis.


Our wishes for dock spiders came true when we went out to the Entomological Society of Ontario meeting at the Queen’s University Biological Station north of Kingston. Here is a moderately sized one on the dock at dawn!


With loons calling in the background, this shooting was idyllic. Way nicer than the screams and shouts of drunks we are getting used to in downtown Toronto!


W emet a great group pf people at ESO, and I am a big advocate now for students joining up for a great conference experience. Next year is in Sioux St. Marie.


Catherine gave a great talk about Twitter for outreach, and I spoke about some of my yellowjacket work.


We have also noticed the abundance of mimetid spiders (pirate spiders) here in Ontario. These awesome spiders are spider predators as well as kleptoparasites.


This conference was a great introduction to Ontario entomology!


In the time since the conference, I have made a couple of outings…Once to High Park (my old stomping grounds), although I did not cover much of the park. I have noted the abundance of Myrmica rubra with some consternation. Here a worker is tending another membracid, this time Publilia concava


I did see a beautiful alydid, but I am not sure which species.


The one sleeping hymenopteran I found in High Park was this gorgeous Nomada.


And that brings us to this weekend! On Saturday, I went out to Humber Bay Park, another of my favourite places from when I was a kid (we didn’t live too far away). It is a great place to see the sunrise over the city. I, of course, was looking for sleeping insects and things.

This male Polistes dominula shows off his beautiful colours against the sunrise.


We are now in the land of the biggest jumpers in North America! Here is a big (but probably not mature) Phidippus audax.

So this brings us to the point where I found something  I had dreamed about, but never thoughy would come to pass….Check out the next post for that!



Leaving the West Coast


Sorry sorry sorry neglected blog! I apologize for the lack of blog posts over the past months. Catherine and I have been very busy, with a spider course in Arizona, ant work,  many manuscripts to finish, and an impending move to Toronto. Catherine is going to be starting a PhD on widow spider behaviour this fall at UTSC, and I am heading out with her to try to ind some work or a postdoc there.
For now, I will just post some photos with some rambling about what we have been doing in the last few weeks. I will try to get more in depth on the spider course and associated activities soon!


Catherine at the Spider Course in Arizona. This was an awesome 2 week trip for us, and a real education in spider ID!


During the spider course, I shot quite a few pictures…Here is a beautiful Chrysina gloriosa!


Wow. What an awesome beetle!


The spider course was held in the Chiricahua mountains, an absolutely gorgeous area that has a lot to offer the naturalist.


Off course, the spider course brought us to a great area or spiders…Here is a huntsman. Be prepared for many cool species when Catherine gets around to posting about them!


After our return from the spider course, we made a trip to Island View Beach to stock up on black widows or Catherine’s PhD research.


It was a gorgeous day for collecting, and the coastal dunes were doing their best to tell us not to leave!


A garter snake from Island View. We will look forward to a more diverse snake fauna in southern Ontario.


In the past few weeks, as we organized our gear for the move, we had some balcony visitors, including this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. Right above our door!


The hummingbirds are still here, right outside the door…In Ontario, we will have but a single species, and only for part of the year 🙁


Ant work has kept me busy…Myrmica rubra tending to larvae.


I have managed to do some shooting on the weekends…Including a quick couple trips out to Iona Beach.


A Paciic Treefrog from this morning. We will definitely miss these little cuties!

Country living

IMG_0567So Catherine and I are enjoying a stay deep down south in Langley. We are about 200 m from the US border, and are house, dog, cat, and mouse sitting here for Sofi and her partner Brian. The animals, being motile, homeostatic organisms, are quite easy to care for. The plants, during this ridiculous heatwave and drought, are suffering, even with daily watering!

Anyway, this is our home and family until Saturday, and we plan to make the most of it!


Callie, the dog, is one of our companions during our county sojourn.


Misto the cat looking elegant. What you can’t see is his special butt-hair trim that will spare us the pleasure of cleaning his rump daily.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document his route, and sealed him in for good.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document her route, and sealed her in for good.


In the back 40 are some rabbits, deer, and coyotes. Here is a baby bunny that lives near the woodshed.


Familiar faces are to be found here too: there are lots of cellar spiders!


Here is a common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) with a great brood of eggsacs.


Out on my morning walk with Callie I found this gorgeous Misumena vatia (goldenrod crab spider) with a big catch.


Here is some more successful predation, this time an Enoplognatha ovata with a crane fly.


There are a bunch of Rufous Hummingbirds here, many of them brood of this year.


Again, out for a morning walk with Callie, I shot this gorgeous Tibellus oblongus (a type of running crab spider) with an egg sac! I really took a lot of pics of this beauty, so let me know what you think!


Mixing in dawn light is one of my favorite techniques at the moment.


Against blue sky, because why not?


A Meet your Neighbours style shot.


Probably my favourite, this one against the hazy dawn sky (there are forest fires nearby!)


This one is shot with the YongNuo 35 mm with a Raynox DCR250.


Another with the 100 mm. 


To round out this post, here is another crab spider, this time a male of Misumena vatia, with spider prey. I believe the spider is a sac spider (Clubionidae).




I have been a bit remiss in continuing to tell the story of the trip Catherine and I took to the Okanagan Valley this spring. I apologize, and in recompense, offer one of the most exciting observations we made.

One of the species we had most hoped to see was the Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus. I was anticipating that being early in the spring, the snakes would still be close to their winter denning sites, perhaps engaged in mating. As it turned out, we were too late. The snakes had already left their den sites for more productive hunting grounds further down the valleys.

The Pacific Rattlesnake is BC’s only rattlesnake, and like many northerly populations of rattlesnakes, is a threatened species. The reasons for the rarity of these snakes is that they have been persecuted by humans, and their habitats are being threatened by development. Persecution of these snakes was particularly damaging as they rely on safe hibernation sites, free of freezing conditions, and must migrate to these sites en masse in the fall. This means that entire populations of the snakes may end up in just a few suitable caverns, where humans can find and destroy them. This is in fact what has happened, not just in BC, but all over North America wherever these denning sites occur. In BC, there was a bounty on the snakes, and some people made it their mission to destroy every snake they could, dynamiting and gassing the dens.


Snakes and roads don’t mix: my unfortunate first encounter with a Pacific Rattlesnake. The snake was decapitated by a truck I was driving, Aug 22, 2008.

In addition, the seasonal migration also poses extreme risk as the snakes must often cross roads to get to where they are going. Needless to say, cars do not mix well with snakes, and death on the roads is undoubtedly a major threat to the species.  I know this all too well, as my first encounter with this species was a fatal one. Years ago, I was driving a truck doing fieldwork in the Similkameen, and hit a snake on the way to a campsite. I felt terrible about this, but by the time I saw the snake, it was too late.
Later that evening, I walked out on the road I had driven up, and saw 7 more freshly killed rattlesnakes! This was likely due to an active log hauling operation using the roadway, but really even a modest amount of vehicle traffic would kill snakes. The 8 I saw killed that day is a ridiculous amount of excess mortality for a long-lived and not very fecund animal, and it means that the population of these snakes is in decline.


On the lookout for snakes, spiders and whatever else we could see.

Every time Catherine and I were in likely areas, we would look at potential den sites with eyes keen for the snakes, but to no avail. We had a bit of inside info on historic den site locations, and so we felt well-prepared. Alas, the snakes did not show up. It was not until late in our trip that we checked out a site near Vaseux Lake. Here again we did not find any rattlers, but we did find a snake-catcher’s equipment in one of the likely den sites: tall boots and a large bucket. This was likely from someone in animal control or perhaps a pest control business that had used these to transport rattlesnakes to the den from someone’s house or other building in the fall (sometimes the snakes will end up in these locations on the way to their dens). This was most encouraging!

We occupied ourselves taking pictures of spiders and insects in the grasslands near the bluffs, always with an eye out for snakes. In the same area where we found  the racer, I finally spotted one!


This was quite a small snake, and when I saw it, it was fleeing our approach (I had thought they might just stay still, like Bothrops). Unlike most snakes which I am familiar with, this is a pitviper, adapted for camouflage and ambush predation, rather than quick flight. We wanted to get some photos, so I picked the snake up on my monopod and placed it in an open area. The little snake was obviously not too pleased with this, but only gave a halfhearted, barely audible rattle. In addition, at no time did the snake strike the stick. It was fairly easy to keep the snake in place just by moving the monopod in front of its head, and it soon just settled in a defensive coil. This made it very easy to photograph, although if I had a polarizing filter for the brilliant sunshine, the shots would have been better!
The ease I had handling these snakes is in stark contrast to just about every other snake I have met. They are relatively slow and cumbersome animals (though the strike is likely very quick).  I have no doubt any reasonably capable adult could move any “threatening” snake from their premises easily with a large bucket and a stick. Nonetheless, these snakes are still regularly (and legally) killed to “protect life and property”, which means that enforcement of their protected status is a nebulous concept.


The snake was absolutely beautiful, with chocolate-brown patches on a cream background.


This eye-level shot shows off the heat-sensitive pits (large holes on the front) which the snakes use to sense their warm-blooded prey. The vertically-slit pupils are a hallmark of predominantly-nocturnal snakes.


Landscape with reptile: a wide and close shot to show the surroundings.


This shot (like many of the previous shots) used a bit of fill flash in order to make the snake stand out.


This is how the snake looks in the grass. Very obvious if moving, but if coiled under a plant, it would be hard to spot.


After a short session (we did not want to stress the animal too much), I nudged it under a large rock, which would be a safe place for the animal to hide.

With these photos, it is obvious that the animal was manipulated into position for photography, and some might take issue with this from an ethical standpoint. I see where this comes from, and I agree somewhat. The snake obviously does not like being handled, and in point of fact, the majority of snakebite accidents probably happen as a result of handling. That being said, from the standpoint of this snake, what has occurred is that the snake was threatened, it could not escape, it stood its ground, and the dangerous animal (me) went away. In the life of one of these snakes, with hawks, cattle, dogs and cars to contend with, this is really small potatoes.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found a second, slightly larger rattler. This one was also fleeing, and in fact did not need capturing, as it took shelter under my backpack, getting caught around the straps in the process. Getting it into position for photography was just a matter of moving the pack to an open area and coaxing the snake out.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.


removing the reptile.

removing the reptile. Photo by Catherine Scott.


The sun was definitely more harsh in this shot, and a polarizing filter would have come in handy! You can tell that this larger rattler has molted more times than the other, as its rattle has more segments.


With this snake, I tried the 300 mm. It compresses the perspective, makes the colours pop a bit, and overall emphasizes the snake.


Again, a wide and close shot to put the snake in the landscape. This accomplishes the opposite of using a telephoto, but can also produce a pleasing composition.


After a short photo session, the snake just disappeared into the next rocky overhang. And that was the end of our rattlesnake adventure!


Barn Owls and Red-tailed Hawks


A barn owl in the hand.


Was out with Sofi last night, to do Barn Owl nest checks (and some bleeding for rodenticide testing). The Barn Owls were in various stages of development, with only the first nest having owls of sufficient size for bloodwork.


There was a Red-tailed Hawk nest nearby, where the parents only got anxious if we actually looked at them (they were fine if we did not pay attention to them).





A gorgeous hawk in the evening light.



Some little Barn owlets, in their brand-new nest box!