urbpan: (dandelion)
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She's eating something! (probably a small fly that got trapped in her web)

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Leucauge venusta are super common around suburban yards, but so beautiful they deserve a close look.

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Green, yellow, black, orange, silver...
They are adapted to forest edges, a habitat that humans replicate throughout our parks, yards, and gardens.

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They make wonderful neighbors, hanging around the edges of trees and shrubs, taking extra flying insects (there are always extras).
urbpan: (dandelion)
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First, right up against the back of the house next to our compost, the magic guardian of the compost. Only the bravest and cleverest of mice may get by the guardian. This was the third time I saw it in the course of the day, but the only halfway decent photo. If you follow Alexis on social media you may have seen me holding it--it never tried to bite, it just thoroughly coated me with its stink gland.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A spider (probably an Agelenid) takes up residence in the back of our mailbox.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Are we seeing a very productive mother, or the fourth generation of bug-eating cobweb-eaters to take up residence here? They are most likely hers--each female American house spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum* can produce several egg sacs, each of which may contain up to 400 eggs. Perhaps it's no wonder that this is one of the most widely distributed spiders in the world. In the great indoors, there isn't much more than other spiders, house centipedes, and the occasional cat that may prey on them. These globose predators make tangled cobwebs and eat a variety of household insects and other creatures, including cockroaches, flies, scorpions, and even animals larger than themselves.

*Nearby fatass in the warm house
urbpan: (dandelion)
Here are some spiders that I either couldn't identify, or I figured they were probably ones that I'd shown in the 280 project already. Spiders are always good anyway, so enjoy:

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This little one has bagged a honeybee, complete with saddlebags loaded with pollen.

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This beauty is probably a male Agelenid spider, but I didn't get a shot of the eye arrangement to be sure.

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I noticed this cross orbweaver at a cookout yesterday. I forget that not everyone is as excited to see them as I am. I should carry a container to rescue unwanted spiders from ungrateful homeowners and party hosts.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The orchard orbweaver Leucauge venusta* is a small but elaborately colored spider that specializes in hunting in small trees, shrubs and understory plants. They don't seem too bothered by human activity, at least judging by the frequency I encounter them. They probably benefit from the many small flies that accompany so many human endeavors. The orchard orbweaver hangs upside-down in her angled orb, in forests, orchards and suburbs from Ontario to Brazil.

* White, beautiful.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When someone local (Boston area) says they saw a huge spider in a web, this is my first guess: cross orbweaver Araneus diadematus*. This spider has seemed more common in recent years, but that may be my impression since I've realized what they are. These are what across the pond they simply call "garden spiders." We also have garden spiders in eastern North America, but they are a different, larger, yellower species. In fact, it seems to me that I haven't seen a native garden spider in years, while I keep seeing more and more cross orbweavers. Not that native garden spiders are disappearing--friends and acquaintances post pictures of them regularly, usually terrified that something dangerous is in their yard. Neither garden spider is at all dangerous to humans of course.

*Araneus is simply "spider." Diadematus comes from diadem: The word derives from the Greek διάδημα diádēma, "band" or "fillet",[1] from διαδέω diadéō, "I bind round", or "I fasten". Apparently this specific name comes from the spider's "crown-shaped" markings, but I am fond of this double meaning for this animal that binds others.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The eastern parson spider Herpyllus ecclesiasticus* is relatively new to me, but I find them with regularity inside my work building. These are nocturnal ground spiders, roaming and hunting, darting out from beneath rocks and leaf litter to catch their prey. These spiders have probably benefitted greatly from the incursion of human structures into their range. They can be found indoors year-round.

*Herpyllus is a Greek masculine noun referring to “tufted thyme,” a type of creeping plant (Cameron 2005). Since this spider creeps and crawls without a web, perhaps Hentz was making an analogy. In Latin, ecclesiasticus means “pertaining to the congregation,” as the markings on the spider’s abdomen so resemble the old-style cravat (neck band) worn by nineteenth century parsons or ministers.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Most often we see these spiders tucked back in the mouth of the funnel (sometimes these are called funnel spiders) of their web, and moment we take notice they disappear back into the safety of the darkness. For whatever reason this Agelenid* spider was out in the open on our shed. The funnel opens out onto a horizontal sheet (sometimes these are called sheet web spiders) often on a man-made object, a hedge, or on the grass (sometimes these are called grass spiders).

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Large males, like this one, are conspicuous when they enter houses roaming around looking for females. When a "HUGE" spider is reported to me (in New England), I narrow down whether it is a nursery web spider, a Carolina wolf spider, or a wandering male Agelenid.

* Charles Walckenaer, the original author of Agelena, did not elaborate on the meaning of the word and there are too many speculations to give anything definite here
urbpan: (dandelion)
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One of the greatest joys in my life is encountering a living thing I've never seen before. I smugly thought I knew basically all the spiders in the Boston area. Why had I never seen this gorgeous gem of an animal before? Most of the spiders I'm familiar with are adapted to hunting near human-altered microhabitats: path edges, windowsills, cellars, hedges.

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Micrathena gracilis* hunts in the shady understory of the forest, the kind of microhabitat that humans tend to reduce with their activities. Fortunately this spider can still be found along its extensive range, from Boston to Lake Michigan, south to Costa Rica. The distinctive spiny abdomen of the female appears to be visually protective, breaking up the spider's outline, while the color helps her blend in with the dappled light of the understory.

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Her web is a dense orb angled to catch passing flies. Each night she consumes the whole thing (but for some structural threads) and rebuilds it each day. Males, as in most spiders, are smaller duller creatures, that lack the female's distinctive appearance and do not build webs.

* Slender tiny goddess of weaving.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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It was a hot sweaty day and I was carrying a full armload of stuff from the hot sweaty stuffy AAZK loft. I set down my load and felt up to brush away a drop of sweat from my face. The drop was more solid than I expected, and this droplet of a spider fell to the floor.

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I felt bad for my rough handling--was I responsible for that missing right foreleg? This appears to be a small member of the Thomisidae* family of crab spiders. These spiders typically wait on flowers to ambush predators. Why it was on my sweaty face I'll never know.

* Thomisso = old Greek "whip"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I wouldn't let myself get away with this substandard photograph for this project, but I know that you can just click here and see amazing examples of the same animal. This of course is a female Phiddipus audax* sometimes called the daring jumping spider. They have a knack for surviving around humans, hunting at windowsills and other spots where insects congregate. The "mask" on the abdomen and the green chelicerae are distinctive. These spiders are so charismatic that some people keep them as pets like mini-tarantulas.

* Phidippus: "Likely from Cicero's oration (speech) De Rege Deiotaro; Phidippus was a slave who was physician to King Deiotaros. Phidippus: Greek, 'one who spares horses'." Audax: literally bold or daring. An apt description of this tiny creature who seems unafraid of the giants around it.

Old friend

Aug. 3rd, 2015 08:36 am
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I encountered this little man in the hallway of the zoo hospital offices. I took this picture and thought, too bad I've already covered this species Platycryptus undatus* in my project. But hey, I haven't written about the scientific name yet!

* "Broadly hidden and wavy"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When referring to an animal of unknown sex, I try to default to female pronouns. It's only fair, male pronouns have been the default since--I don't know, all of recorded history I suppose, at least in the West. There's some biological merit to it, as well. Females are the norm, males are an aberrant version of the female concocted to provide genetic variation.

With spiders, males are distinctive enough that we bug people will often lead with the fact of their sex. "Well, first of all it's a male." Small relative size, slim not plump abdomen, and usually visibly large palps. Palps are leg-like appendages on the front end of the spider, used by the males to transfer sperm from their genitalia to the female's. I don't see them on this little spider, but I do see comically large front legs. One commenter already remarked that it looked like he skipped his lower body day at the gym.

I suspect that these front legs are used by this jumping spider Tutelina harti* as visual communicators. Many male salticids** wave their front legs in various distinct patterns. Sometimes they do it to communicate with other males, probably territorial messages. More importantly, they signal to the female, to indicate that they are males of the same species, to convince the larger more powerful female spider not to eat them.

Bugguide says that these spiders are "usually found on tree bark." I guess the fabric of my shorts was close enough.
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* Tutelina was a Roman goddess who protected the crops. Harti refers to a man named Hart (dunno who). A hart is another word for a deer.

** "Family of dancers."
urbpan: (dandelion)
big spider )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I arrived at Alex's house, and she had just cleaned her way through the cobwebs of her basement bulkhead. I said "oh boy!" and went down to find the spiders. Most were cellar spiders, naturally. I did find, however, this lovely Steatoda triangulosa.* She's slightly different colors from the ones I've seen before, but the pattern is unmistakeable.

This is another species that probably came from Europe originally, but is so common both in Europe and North America that its not entirely clear. Unless my memory is wrong, it's also found in Australia with the apt common name "cupboard spider."

* I'm not kidding you when I report with some delight that the scientific name translates more or less to "Triangles on her fat ass."
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This doting mother is a cellar spider, Pholcus* sp. These spiders are probably the ones I encounter most frequently. As a pest control technician, I crawl into dark, cramped spaces, shining my flashlight into various nooks of the great indoors. I have long suspected that cellar spiders--which in the pre-human wild would have lived in shallow caves and the hollows of dead trees--are far more numerous now than before we provided all this habitat. I leave these animals alone to help me do my job, catching flies, and probably lots of other spiders.

* Greek pholkos (φολκος)- "bow-legged"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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There are a number of small dark globose spiders found in New England that have the misfortune of being confused with Lactrodectus (widow) spiders. None are dangerous, and like almost all spiders, rightly perceive humans as huge lumbering threatening beasts. When I tried to catch this one, she folded her legs against her body and held still, becoming a tiny tumbling football. When I was finally able to pick her up, she spent all of her time trying desperately to get away. This is one of the Steatoda* group of cobweb spiders, spiders which are not uncommonly found indoors. She may be S. grossa**, S. borealis***, or S. bipunctata****.

*Steatoda literally means “tallowy” in latinized Greek, but it is assumed that Sundevall was going for something more like “rotund or globose” (Cameron 2005).

** grossa means "big," or "big and plump" referring to the female's abdomen

*** borealis means "northern"

**** bipunctata means "two-spotted"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I was leaning my bike up against a cement wall when I detected the tiniest movement. This male zebra jumper (Salticus scenicus*), all of 4mm long, took my presence as a threat and was dancing to and fro and waving his folding pedipalps at me.
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