Tag Archive | Island View Beach

#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.


Some winter spiders at Island View Beach


Catherine and I are back in BC for Christmas, hanging out with my mom in Victoria. The weather has largely been atrocious, so the photo opportunities have been scarce. However, the past couple days has seen a bit of clearing, so we headed up to Island View to see what we could see.


A small male Pardosa was the first wolf we saw, and was surprisingly active, despite the freezing temperatures.


A larger female wolf was a bit less active, but still good to see.


Though the weather is cold, prey are still around and active, and in fact the widows we saw still had small capture webs. Not sure if they ever snack on these termites, but it is possible.


Many of the female widows were quiescent, though some could still move about.


As usual, there were immature males hanging out on the periphery of the females’ webs. These “winter males” are bigger, bulkier, and more like females than the summer crop.


It is likely that these “winter males” undergo more molts to achieve their greater size, and perhaps the bulk is needed to survive the freezing temperatures without feeding much. They could be well placed to secure early matings in the spring.


We traveled about the beach quite a bit, and believe now that the good widow habitat might be more extensive than we previously thought. It will require some careful mapping to determine though.


After returning from the beach, I went up to Mt. Tolmie and saw some more widows, including this large female, who was entirely black underneath. The habitat here is more patchy, but still supports decent widow populations.


At both Island View and M. Tolmie, we found quite a few overwintering cutworms.


Also found a tiny gnaphosid, which may be Sergiolus.


I ended the spidering by uncovering a sleeping Phidippus, under a small rock.


Weekend Expedition 57: Thanksgiving in Victoria


This weekend, Catherine and I visited Victoria, for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. The weather was not super cooperative for outdoor activities, and Catherine was working hard on her PhD NSERC proposal, but we did manage one trip out to Island View Beach to check up on the local arthropods. I also went for a stroll in Uplands Park to get some of the following shots.


This is how the rain looked on Saturday morning…


Better to be sheltered inside, or under the eaves of a house!


Quite a few grasshoppers were out and about. This one I shot as it was hiding on a Garry Oak leaf (you can see I was holding a white card below).


A juvenile wolf spider looking odd and elegant with two very prominent eyes.


A Dysdera crocata male in Uplands Park.


An Aphaenogaster occidentalis worker carrying brood in Uplands Park. This species does well in Garry Oak meadows.


Catherine, my friend Jeff, and a borrowed golden retriever (Jackson) at Island View Beach.


The fall selection of resting Hymenoptera was much more limited than previously, with this impressively-ovipositored ichneumonid being the only example we could find.


Resting snakes were about though; this garter snake was torpid and remained in a ball rather than trying to flee when we found her under a log.


Spiders were to be found in large numbers though, this being Arachtober and all. Here is a tetragnathid backlit with a bare flash.


Here is a running crab spider, of the genus Tibellus; the same one appears at the top of the post. These are very elegant-looking little spiders, and make great photographic subjects.


Most of the creatures we found were covered by a light dew. This cranefly sparkles.


This female Araneus diadematus was particularly large. That is Catherine’s finger for scale.


Speaking of large, here is a giant! A giant house spider, formerly Tegenaria duellica, now this species is called Eratigena atrica. Since Catherine is scheduled to give an upcoming talk on spider bites (and how they are very unlikely) at the ESBC conference, we decided for an illustrative photo shoot.


Here is the same spider sinking her fangs into resting peacefully on Catherine’s nose.


Apparently, the feet tickle. Not that I would ever try this, that would be crazy. 


A female Castianeira we found under some old plywood.


A penultimate male black widow. These ones that overwinter always seem to be more robust and darker than the juveniles that develop quickly in the summer. I would imagine this is a textbook example of phenotypic plasticity; one that deserves more careful study.


Again with an eye to Catherine’s upcoming talk, we took some shots of black widow defensive behaviour. Here a female throws glue-like silk on an offending finger. This is so reliable, I might have to try this in a studio setting with some nice backlight!


Last but not least, on our final morning in Victoria, we walked on Mt. Tolmie, where we found this male Anna’s hummingbird, still defending territory. It is impressive these little birds are still nesting in the cold wet fall!

Weekend Expedition 47: Some shots from Island View Beach


Catherine and I spent our last full day on the Island visiting her field site at Island View Beach. The weather was cool with a bit of rain, and it was a good time to explore the driftwood and dunes looking for arthropods.


The Formica obscuripes colony I visited earlier this year was busy and seems to have some reproductives emerging.


These ants are colourful and charismatic.


The winged adults were not flying (yet) but seemed ready to do so when conditions are right.


A dance fly (Empididae) waiting on a grass leaf.


A male Zebra Jumper (Salticus scenicus) scoping around for females. These guys have massive chelicerae!


A soldier among workers of the western subterranean termite, Reticulitermes hesperus.


There were quite a few Dysdera crocata hiding under the logs. Catherine and I learned that these can live up to four years in captivity!


A particularly large and pretty giant house spider, Eratigena duellica.


This tiger crane fly bears some superficial similarity to a male black widow… The same long orange-yellow legs with dark joints anyway.



Another crane fly from head-on.


I do not know what this spider might be, and this is the only shot I got…Any ideas?


Tenebrionids live a long and presumably boring life. This one is feeding on moss, which I guess is good, but not my favourite.


This Phidippus johnsoni was the only other jumper we encountered. The Habronattus were not active.


Of course, the widows were quite abundant as usual. We saw many females, none with egg sacs, and no males…Our search was not extensive though. We were hoping to see some of the large overwintered morph males such as the one I encountered last week.


Spring cleaning?


On Friday, on our way to the airport and a meeting with a gorgeous hummingbird, my brother and I stopped quickly at Island View Beach to see what we could see. What we found was a huge number of the Western Thatching Ant, Formica obscuripes (thanks to Alex Wild for the ID!) emerging from their mound, engaged in foraging and perhaps a little spring cleaning. This colony was out in full force, quite different from  later in the season when the workers are travelling far and fast on foraging trips. All these workers out on top of the mound were truly an impressive sight.


En masse, they were gorgeous and impressive.


These ants uses “thatch” on the roof of their mounds, so many of them were dragging bits of dried grass stems to the top.


The only prey item I saw was this unfortunate noctuid caterpillar being dragged in for dismemberment. Does this mean there is already brood?



The mound from a distance. The black bit at the top are the ants!


The skies above were also worth noting, with these two eagles providing some exercise for my long-lens skills.


This is how you get a strained neck!

Weekend Expedition 31: Sleeping Hymenoptera!


What is the perfect arthropod photographic subject? Cute jumping spiders, powerful robberflies, shiny tiger beetles? I would argue that all these are great, but they are not very easy to do full photographic justice to. No, what you need is something that stays still for long periods of time, at a handy angle for posing against the light, and is pretty to boot! Sleeping bees and wasps fit this bill perfectly! Many solitary bees and wasps perch with their mandibles locked into a plant substrate. making for some fine shooting opportunities. I was lucky enough to come upon two sleeping aggregations with Coelioxys bees and Ammophila wasps at Island View Beach on Friday morning. Because they were so still, I was able to try many kinds of shots with them, I hope you will enjoy seeing them as much as I loved taking them!


The colours of the dawn sky show from the east , while a diffused flash and a fill card light the subject. This is Coelioxys rufitarsus, one of the parasitic Megachilids. These beauties lay their eggs in other Megachilid nests, and their larvae consume their host’s provisions.




This Ammophila was shot using my standard lighting using the Monster Macro Rig.





I love the elegant pointed abdomens of these awesome bees!


This shot of the two sleeping insects was shot from the tripod with all natural light, 1/8 sec, f13.


Tripod shot of the aggregation, silhouetting them against the dawn sky.


This shot shows the Coelioxys waking up.


When I have the time and a great subject, I like to compose some “cover shots”.


Of course I also shot them on white!




This is the second aggregation, a bit further up the beach.




Weekend Expedition 19: Black Widow collecting at Island View Beach


This Weekend Expedition was an important working trip, to collect wild stock for Catherine’s western black widow colony. Catherine studies the sexual communication of these beautiful spiders, and requires wild stock to work on. The purpose of this trip was to collect adult females, as well as egg sacs to give the annual boost that her colony requires. We set out Sunday morning to Island View Beach on the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island to turn over logs and search for a hidden treasure of Latrodectus hesperus.


On the ferry ride over, Catherine begrudgingly shared her breakfast with some gulls.


And became a big star!


Providing some close up views of gulls flying over water!


Island View Beach


Catherine explains the double pocket technique: load one pocket with empty vials, and transfer to the other as you collect the spiders.


Jeff and Chloe search a log


Devin traversed the dunes.


A rare overwintered male black widow. It is darker than ones reared in the lab.


A not-yet-adult female black widow.


Black widows were not the only spiders we found of course. Here is a female hobo spider with her egg sac.


A crab spider waits out the rain under a log


We also saw many Dysdera crocata, the Woodlouse Hunter


which are well-endowed with huge fangs, an adaptation to defeat their well-armoured prey.


A grub of what I presume is Polyphylla decemlineta, the 10-lined June beetle


an Enormous Banana Slug!


Termites, walking in a line. These are likely Reticulotermes hesperus, the western drywood termite. Pay attention Entomology 317 students! Driftwood filled beaches!


More social insect action!


A beautiful Carabid


Lunch on the beach in the rain


A very short collection trip comes to an end.


Posing with the booty!