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Weekend Expedition 72: Leslie Spit with Gil and Catherine

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Fall is swiftly turning into winter here in southern Ontario, with cold nights and disappearing leaves…This weekend looked like the last in while to offer any kind of warmish temperatures, so Catherine, Gil Wizen and I headed to Tommy Thompson Park (Leslie Spit) o see if we could find some cool arthropods. The following is a condensed collection of pictures I managed to get.

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On the way to pick up Gil at the train station, I snapped this shot. It actually has Catherine in the frame.

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You can see that the goldenrod has largely gone to seed.

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A surprisingly colorful Phidippus audax.

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Just look at that abdomen!

 

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There were quite a few syrphids about, some of them just had to bask on exposed perches in order to warm up enough to fly.

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We saw about a jillion cucumber leaf beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), mainly feeding on goldenrod

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A “buffalo treehopper” (a membracid in the genus Ceresa) hides out on a willow stem. Gil took a bunch of shots of this with both wide lens and MPE-65, so look out for them!

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This is an alydid bug (broad-headed bug), one of several we saw basking in the morning sun. This is likely Alydus eurinus, a common species in Ontario.

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These beachside wolf spiders (Pardosa) are plainly ornamented, but just a lovely shade of bluish gray.

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A really really big mite we found under some bark. This is likely a species of Trombidium.

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The subjects of a high-mag MPE-65 shot have got to be really calm creatures. Check out how this pierid is dwarfed by Gil’s diffuser.

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It was the most cooperative pierid ever.

 

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This is my attempt at wide-angle macro of the same insect.

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A squashed Pardosa wolf spider on the road, being fed on by Myrmica rubra.

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Winter is definitely coming. This Culex pipiens has a “hypertrophied fat body” (she is fat) a condition that adapts her to living out the winter in a sheltered location.

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Golden dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) having an end-of-summer romance.

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A Myrmica rubra worker investigating a fungus-killed caterpillar. If she feeds on this carcass, and gets infected, her colony will likely kill her, then dispose of her body somewhere far away.

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The alianthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea) is a beautiful species that is not found in BC…Though seems quite common here.

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A gorgeous amaurobiid spider, recently disturbed from her cribellate silk retreat.

 

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A running crab spider in the genus Thanatus. They look much the same wherever you find them.

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OK, I saved one of my fave shots for last, this time it is an Agapostemon bee sitting in a flower. I just love the colour combinations and the textures.

Weekend Expedition 71: Mississauga salamander hunt

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After a week of warmth, Gil Wizen and I set out for the same woods we visited last week, in order to see if we could find any salamanders out to take advantage of the vernal pools. The snow was completely gone, and the pools ice-free, although it was overcast and a nippy 5 C.

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There were flies and moths out on the vegetation, indicating at least that the insects have begun to wake up.

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Even a male orb weaver was out, although he did not have a capture web.

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Near the vernal pools, we started to flip some logs, hoping for a treasure rove of salamanders, but initially we found only millipedes, beetles and some small red-backed salamanders.

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There were quite a few firefly larvae in the rotted wood, as well as some rove beetles.

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Very close to the vernal pools, Gil found this Jefferson’s Salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum. This (to me) was a big beast, dwarfing the longtoed salamanders from BC. This species is endangered in Ontario, although it is common in other parts of its range.

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They are a difficukt species to capture well in a photograph, and for this shot I stood off at a distance and used the 300 mm. Luckily it was overcast, and the light in the forest was diffuse. The salamander was quite motionless, and probably was not pleased about being out in daylight.

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We replaced the big amphibian, and wished it well. Soon, hopefully, many of its fellows will come down to breed in these little vernal pools.

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We also found a few redbacked salamanders, which are a species of plethodontid. These animals have no need of open water to breed, and in fact lay their eggs in moist soil and wood, hatching out into juveniles with legs already formed. They are lungless, and never need gills either!

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These Plethodon are a bit easier to photograph, although they might have benefited from a more diffuse flash.

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After leaving Gil to pack for his coming trip to Ecuador, I found my way home was blocked by a big St. Patrick’s day parade. It was scheduled to last several hours, so I crawled through the awful Toronto traffic to Tommy Thompson Park to kill some time until my annoying relatives had cleared out of town. I found a couple of nice sac spiders under some bark.

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These Clubiona have very impressive chelicerae, but never seem to threaten to use them. Instead, they are very prone to jumping when disturbed.

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I found some European fire ants under a rock, and took some photos. They were still rather lethargic, and hence not much of a stinging hazard!

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They are quite pretty little ants, and Toronto seems to abound with them now.

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Here a worker antennates a queen. You can see her much-enlarged thorax and wing scars.

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Despite their wings, the queens do not disperse by flying in North America, a trait they seem to have lost. In addition, the colonies here are often much larger than those in Europe.

 

Weekend Expedition 70: Mississauga/Credit River

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On Sunday, Catherine and I went out to Mississauga, where we met up with Gil Wizen, one of my favourite macrophotographers to go out for a early spring hike around the woods above the Credit River. It was such a treat to be out with a fellow invertebrate zoologist, not having to explain why exactly we should flip over a given log, or pull up a piece of loose bark…How very rarely do we get to go out in the woods with another person with the same agenda!

The forest was snowy, but warming, and we are anticipating a major thaw through the week….Very soon, the famed Ontario salamander fauna will be on the move to vernal pools for breeding. This weekend we did not find any salamanders, but we did find a great variety of cool arthropods, thanks in no small part to diligent searching by Gil.

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The wooded bluffs above the Credit River, near the Mississauga campus of U of T was where we wandered. The geology of this place looks pretty fascinating, with some thin layers of sandstone very near the surface, often pushed upward by tree roots.

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Catherine and Gil on the way to the forest.

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The mixed forest seemed to have abundant birdlife, and it would be good to come by earlier or later in the day to see if we could find some owls…

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Many of the birds were doing what we were doing, probing under bark and looking in crevices for invertebrates.

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One of our very first finds was also one of the coolest: A Dolomedes tenebrosus, looking fat and happy under some loose bark. This is a species in the fishing spider/nursery web spider family (Pisauridae), and it is usually found near water. They are undoubtedly major beneficiaries of abundant aquatic insect hatches in certain seasons.

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Here is the same spider resting on a block of the sandstone cap that we found thrust up near the tree roots. The large eyes of these pisaurids are evident, and hint at relationships with wolf spiders, also in the Lycosoidea clade.

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We found a much smaller Dolomedes tenebrosus nearby under some leaves. Interestingly, both of these spiders seemed not strongly affected by the cold, and were able to move about even though it was hovering near zero.

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Gil examines a rotted and fallen trunk. I asked him whether he had done this sort of think since childhood, and it seems that like me he has always flipped logs and rocks looking for invertebrates. A born naturalist!

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A caterpillar of Idia lubricalis (a hermiine erebid), also found under leaves. Thanks to Gil for the ID!

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Like the previous week in Crother’s Woods, we also found a number of crab spiders and running crab spiders. Here is a running crab, likely a Philodromus species.

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A small (Handsome Fungus, family Endomychidae) beetle found in fungus-rotted wood. This one has a very pleasingly-shaped pronotum and daintily-clubbed antennae.

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Gil also uncovered some tiny psuedoscorpions, which was a treat to see.

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Many thanks to Gil, for leading us to a very productive patch of woods. We look forward to getting out again soon!

 

 

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 68: A frozen High Park outing

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Catherine and I were on our way to see a talk on environmental restoration by Dr. Dawn Bazely, York U prof and prolific scientist, author and SciComm advocate, held Sunday at the Howard Park Tennis Club. This talk was not only interesting, but for Catherine and myself it was a great way to get introduced to the High Park Stewards, a local conservation group focused on the large western Toronto park.

Before the talk, we had a couple hours to wander around the frozen landscape, seeing what we could rustle up. It turns out, not much was active on this cold and cloudy Sunday. Perhaps best exemplifying this is the hibernating Carabus (either granulatus or maeander) that we found under a log. These large carabids are a familiar sight in logs in wintertime, but unlike the ones we see in coastal BC, this one was not going anywhere fast!

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If only all carabids were so docile!

After wandering up a hill, we stopped by a section of the park where people leave seeds for the birds, and saw what are probably Toronto’s most common winter songbirds, House Sparrows, Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers vying for the free meal. I concentrated on shooting the woodpeckers, because they were not as shy.

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Because it was so dark, I engaged the stabilizer on my 300 for all of these shots. Not too shabby!

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Just love the little mustaches on these bold woodpeckers!

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Here you can see the specialized foot morphology that woodpeckers have for clinging to vertical surfaces.

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Although these were taking seeds from the piles on the ground, they would also peck at various branches nearby for insects.

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These lovely birds added a splash of colour to an otherwise gloomy day in the park.

 

Weekend Expedition 67: the mythical white squirrels of Trinity Bellwoods

IMG_9607Catherine and I undertook a short expedition out to Trinity Bellwoods Park to see if we could spot the famous white squirrels which live in the area. These are not a different species, but rather a colour morph of the native Eastern Gray Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis. We did see a white squirrel on the coffee shop outside, along with some white squirrel bling on the inside. Unfortunately, I found the coffee was sour in that particularly obnoxious way that clueless hipsters are so fond of. “Yeah man, I liked coffee before it was good. You wouldn’t understand.”

(BTW, this type of crappy coffee is not limited to Toronto. We found more than our fair share in Vancouver as well. )

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We did of course see some black squirrels, another morph that folks further south find quite interesting. These are actually quite common all over Toronto.

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The park itself is a bit of an overrun mudpit in the winter, which the dogs seem to enjoy, but makes for treacherous walking.

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The squirrels did squirrely things, such as hand face first down treetrunks, and sit in high branches making clucking sounds. These are scatter-hoarding rodents, caching food through the summer in order to survive the winter, but in urban areas make a good living on handouts and raiding gardens.

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We saw several wasp nests, free of waspy occupants in the frigid air. Luckily there are lots of tree cavities around for the new queens to overwinter.

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The more typically-coloured gray variant of the gray squirrel was in evidence as well, doing some major clucking from perches, as well as seeing of we had any nuts to fork over.

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They are quite handsome animals, and one can’t help but marvel at their strength and speed as they navigate the trees. A squirrel must also have a tough heart to endure all the rapid climbs and descents.

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The black morph probably gains some thermal advantages that offset the increased predation risk of having such an obvious coat colour.

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The most exciting part of this trip was watching the squirrels chase each other, something that will probably happen more frequently in springtime. It did however, lead to my best shot of the day:

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Voilà! The flying squirrel! A bit out of focus on the head, but still pretty good for a speeding squirrel!

 

 

Weekend Expedition 66: Highland Creek

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It is early fall in Ontario, and the leaves are changing colours…Seems to me the animals are not very abundant right now, probably because at this time of year freezing weather can hit at any time. A bit different from the west coast!
Most of the flowers are gone, and the few that remain are looking pretty shabby. Catherine and I still haven’t got out near Toronto very much to see the sights, but this Saturday I took off into the woods around the University of Toronto Scarborough while Catherine was invigilating an exam. This campus abuts Highland Creek, and there is a wooded Valley just below which has walking paths and woods. A great place to explore!

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Right by the campus, Catherine found this awesome common house spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum. Correction! This is Parasteatoda tabulata, which makes a debris-covered retreat! These cool therediids can be quite pretty!

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Under some bark we found this Agelenopsis female with an eggsac.

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We brought along our 6-legged parson spider (Herpyllus ecclesiasticus) to do some outdoor shots. This awesome and extremely fast spider is a gnaphosid.

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We aren’t sure how she lost her legs, but she can still move very quickly!

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In the woods, I found a lot of red-backed salamanders. The species in the east is Plethodon cinereus.

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This one was only about 4 cm long, and was very obliging for photography.

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This seems to be a “leadback” phase of Plethodon cinereus. More on this species here.

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Under a log I found a couple overwintering queens of bald-faced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata. They didn’t seem too pleased to see me!

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This one was vibrating her wings, probably to go off and search for a new site to overwinter after being disturbed.

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I can’t get over the cormorants! When I was a kid, they did not exist here!

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This is the first photo I have ever gotten of a cormorant yawning!

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Sometime very soon we have to get out of town to see the fall colours…They are probably spectacular right around now!

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I just barely scratched the surface of this extensive protected valley, and I am sure I will come back again and again!

Weekend Expedition 65: Mossom Creek

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This weekend, Catherine and I took a trip to Mossom Creek in Port Moody, in search of a very special frog: the Pacific Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei). The Pacific Tailed Frog gets its name from a copulatory organ present on the males of the species. Because their preferred habitat are these cold, fast-flowing creeks, the usual froggy broadcast of sperm over an egg mass would not be very effective, so these frogs use their “tail” for internal fertilization of the eggs within the female.

I had never been to this creek at this time of year, so I was a bit unsure whether we would find any, but it is such a lovely spot it would be nice anyway.

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Looking under rocks is the best way to find larvae of Tailed Frogs, and incidentally is also great for finding stonefly larvae!

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It wasn’t long before Catherine turned up this gorgeous Tailed Frog tadpole, clinging to a rock with its suction cup-like mouth.

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Failing to find any adults, we continued to survey the creek for inverts

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Here is a stonefly that is much smaller than the nymphs we turned up. This is likely a newly-emerged Isoperla.

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It is a good thing Catherine examines salmonberries before eating them!

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When in the woods around here, a rugose stag beetle is always a good find! Sinodendron rugosum is a gorgeous beetle, with elaborate ornamentation on the males.

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If you scaled this up and cast it in metal, it would make a good beer bottle opener! The beetle used these projections for intrasexual combat.

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A truly majestic beetle.

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Aphids with newborns on a grass blade.

Catherine and I did not find any tailed frog metamorphs or adults. This is obviously not a good time to find them, and we will try to return later in the summer. But I do have some photos I took a few years ago that show the creatures in situ at Mossom Creek:

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A better view of a great frog!

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This larva was a lot more advanced than the one we found on Sunday. This one has legs!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Expedition 61: a wintry Island View Beach

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Here is a great shot my brother got using his iphone of Catherine posing with a male widow.

This weekend, our last for winter break in Victoria, Catherine, my brother and I headed up to Island View Beach to see what we could see. After the hectic holiday family-related chores (presents and cooking) it was great to get outdoors on a non-rainy day.

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First up was a Tegenaria, which like most of the spiders we found was dewy under the frozen boards and logs we turned.

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This doesn’t really count as a natural pose, but I was taking advantage of the dawn sky.

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Centipedes are much much more cooperative when cold!

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I think that winter centipede photography will be my go-to technique from now on.

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We actually have no real idea what this spider is… Possibly a gnaphosid, but we did not get a great look at it.

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The winter sky at dawn is often quite beautiful, provided there is not an impenetrable cloud bank to the east.

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Again, a centipede, looking elegant and not thrashing about wildly!

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We found some winter male widows, which are almost always big and black and female-like.

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Catherine found an overwintering queen Vespula pensylvanica. She was totally quiescent and could not be woken up for a photo shoot.

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More obligatory widow shots! We were quite happy to see the widows doing so well.

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Some kind of tiny Lentinellus-like fungi.

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This is a recently-metamorphosed ground beetle of sorts. So nice to see these not scurrying around rapidly! The non-black colour is also really helpful for making a good exposure.

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This one is definitely a gnaphosid. we saw the prominent spinnerets!

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Catherine provokes a penultimate male widow into defensive silk-throwing.

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Just after this, he was docile and cooperative for some photos showing his beautiful palps.

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On the way out, we saw a number of Golden-crowned Sparrows.

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Winter time can be a great time for photography, even of insects and spiders!