Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.1 – Arthropods

Spring is Here!

Days like these remind me what I love so much about the South...warm Springs exploding with life.

This edition of my series of Nature Walks is a big one. I took all of the following images over the past few days - some on my lunch break, some at the NIEHS campus, some at home, and some simply next to the road on my daily commute. So perhaps "Nature Walk" is a misnomer for this edition, but it suffices. Even while staring at the lake through my windows at work I am walking nature in my mind (unless I'm sectioning brains).

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Arthropods

The first thing I'd like to note is that if you haven't visited Bugguide.net before, you should check it out.  It is an utterly indispensable online reference for everything arthropod. I almost never fail to identify insects using it (and it has quite a few experts and educated amateur entomologists always willing to help in identification).

My wife walked into the house white-faced a couple of days ago. She had gone into my shed for a tool.  This is what she saw:

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

"Go ahead - touch me - I dare you"

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

Dolomedes tenebrosus spider

It's a Dolomedes tenebrosus spider. She's a lovely beast. She keeps my shed relatively bug-free.

I saw this next spider at the pond back behind my property today. It's a Six-Spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton). Interestingly, I learned that it is of the same genus as the monster above, though they are massively different in size, color, habit, and habitat. They both belong to the family of Fishing Spiders (though the first one does not live on water).

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

Dolomedes triton spider

While turning over some leaves, I found this brilliantly colored orb-weaver, (I believe it's a Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)).

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus)

At lunch I struggled to capture an image of this stunning beauty of a Coleopteran. It would sit still as I focused, then dart about a foot forward in a blink - I would move, refocus - rinse and repeat... It's a Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata). What luck! Two different species with "Six-spotted" in the common name (the beetle and the spider above).

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Of course, the Azaleas are in full bloom at the homestead, and are of course covered in bees, flies, and butterflies.

Here's a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Next is the Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). I know they are carpenter bees because they drill into my wood-paneled house. This is followed by hungry red-bellied woodpeckers drilling into said wood to retrieve the hymenopteran snacks.  This is followed by me patching and repainting the woodpeckers' hack job. It's a semi-circle of life.

(Note: If you haven't seen it, you must check out my story from earlier today: The Carpenter Bee and Her Mate: A Heartwarming (and Dissapointing) Tale of Rescue.

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

A bee (Anthophila (Apoidea) - Bees) of unknown identity (I couldn't even peg it to a family - help please? It was about half the size of the carpenter bees.

Unknown Bee

Unknown Bee

And some Ants (Formicidae) on a flower. I didn't even realize they were there until I checked out the image on my computer.  It was a tiny flower.

Unknown Ants

Unknown Ants

Finally, I found a nice specimen of what I believe is a Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) ootheca (egg case).

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

See the rest of this Nature Walk:


16Sep/08Off

Another Black Widow Where She Shouldn’t Be

Southern Black Widow tending her nest above my porch

Southern Black Widow tending her nest above my porch

I just got home and happened to look up into the corner of my porch today, when what do I see but a Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus) tending her egg case above my steps.

I have seen hundreds of black widows at my house (see some really cool closeups in my previous post on black widows). Normally they are down low, barely above the ground, peeking out from leaves or tree roots. Occasionally I'll see them hanging beneath my porch steps. But this is the first time I've seen one elevated so high. My guess is that she is only roosting so high for the sake of her eggs.

Hanging up high instead of down low

Hanging up high instead of down low

Below is a cool video I took of a black widow I caught this summer.  As mentioned before, the widows I've seen in North Carolina are the Northern Back Widow (Latrodectus variolus), and not the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans), though it is my understanding that their neurotoxin venoms are equally dangerous. That being said, bites are extremely rare and deaths rarer. They are very unaggressive in my own experience and will instantly hide when approached. I usually just note their locations and leave them alone. This girl, however, is not long for this earth. Too close to my door, and I don't want the babies working their way inside. Plus, my wife is terrified that we have so many widows around to begin with. If it's any consolation to you insect/arachnid lovers, I am usually much kinder and appreciative of our six- and eight-legged cousins than most.

You can tell the species apart by the fact that Southern Black Widow has a complete abdominal hourglass, while Northern Black Widows have a "broken" hourglass (see the movie below and this previous post).

Also, if you like cool spider videos, check out this Golden Garden Spider video I took.

Northern Black Widow videos:

For your own edification, here is a bit about their venom from wikipedia:

The venom spreads rapidly throughout the body and acts by causing the release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and GABA.

And symptoms:

During the first 24 hours after a bite:

In some rare and extreme cases, severe complications can arise:

Symptoms that may be present at or near the wound:

3Sep/08Off

Behavioral Mimicry in the Golden Garden Spider

I witnessed a pretty awesome display today by my friendly neighborhood Golden Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), that I had never before seen. In fact, I had no idea that spiders would make such defensive displays.

As I approached her web, I noticed the web start to vibrate back and forth in quite an exaggerated fashion. So I ran and grabbed my camera. When I got back out she had stopped, but she started back up immediately as I got close.

Note - my hand is actually about 6 inches from the web. Also, my hand produced no wind (you can see this clearly toward the end of the video - the last ten seconds are by far the best).

Considering the bright yellow and black markings, my nearest guess is that she was mimicking the movement of a carpenter bee or some other poisonous hymenopteran (we have lots of carpenter bees). It seems clear that it was her way of saying "get the fuck away from me! I'm dangerous". Of course, it may be that it's not mimicry at all, but to me it looks very similar to the movement of the carpenter bees against that very same wood as they bob forward and backward.

For another cool picture of an Argiope, see my previous post (which also has some cool black widows from my house).

4Aug/08Off

Spiders and Insects Around the House

First, for the last two summers my property has been overrun by the Northern Black Widow (Latrodectus variolus). These are distinguishable from the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) by the fact that Northern Widows have broken hourglasses on their abdomen, while Southern widows have complete hourglasses. Note the broken hourglass on the female below.


Next up, we have the Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), or I used to call them when I was a kid: the "zig-zag spider", for obvious reasons. I love it when I get these around the house. They're just plain cool. I also have an amazing video of the female below spinning her egg case.

These are freaky little creatures: I believe they are Coreidae sp. That's about all I can figure out with a quick look on bug guide.
Menacing Giant Stag Beetle (Lucanus elaphus). These things scare the crap out of my wife.

And finally, an awesome example of obvious Natural Selection: a moth of the Hydriomena genus.