Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hedgehog Gall

This odd looking protrusion was found attached to the leaf of a burr oak tree. I had no idea what it was so I placed a photo of it on facebook and soon had an answer of something called a Hedgehog Gall. The name is very apt considering its appearance. It looks somewhat spikey, but is actually very soft and velvety to touch. Hedgehog galls are formed by a tiny gall-forming insect called a Hedgehog Gall Wasp (Acrapis erinacei). The lifecycle of most gall wasps is interesting and sometimes complex, and hedgehog gall wasps are no different. Mating takes place in the spring and the female will lay eggs on the leaves of various species of white oaks, like our burr oak. When the eggs hatch they irritate the tree causing it to form a gall that essentially protects the young larvae. Each gall may contain up to 5 larval cells. The larvae feed on the nutritious insides of the gall that the tree so kindly created for them.....well kindness probably had nothing to with it, but nonetheless the tiny gall wasps are provided all the nutrients they need as they grow inside the gall. As the insect feeds and grows so does the gall itself. This particular gall is approximately 1/2 inch in diameter and yellow in color with orangish colored hairs covering the surface.

When the larvae are ready to leave the protection of the gall they will emerge as adult females (no males). These unbred females will lay eggs on the leaf buds of the host tree. These eggs overwinter and hatch sometime in April or May. The newly hatched larva will develop inside other galls and emerge many weeks later as both males and females which will mate and begin the cycle over again. See, I told their life cycle was somewhat interesting and complex.

Galls have always fascinated me and I never get tired of finding them and I am always curious what type of insect created them. Most insects that form galls are so tiny as to go unseen by humans. Unlike larger, more defensive wasps, gall wasps are harmless to humans. Most are also harmless to trees, even if the tree is covered in a significant amount of galls it doesn't seem to have any ill effects on the trees overall health. If the tree is young and the number of galls is disproportionate to the size of the tree then it may stunt the tree or possibly kill it, but that would be rare. The wasp depends upon the host plant to survive, so it is not in the best interest of the wasp to destroy the tree by overpopulating it with offspring and galls to the point of damaging or killing the host. This spring as the leaves begin to open look for the many types of galls that are present and see if you can discover who formed them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Speckled Kingsnake: educator, ambassador, a diagnosis and friend.

Photo provided by: Sean McKinnon
WARNING: The following blogpost depicts graphic surgical procedures in the form of pictures and video. If you are sensitive to this type of thing you may not want to proceed.

Speckled kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki) or Salt & Pepper Snakes as they are sometimes referred to are native species to Missouri and occur statewide, however their population is larger in the Southern portion of our state than up North where I live. They are medium to large snakes that may reach lengths up to 48 inches. There is a World record of 72 inches, which would be quite large for this species. This species is unmistakable in appearance and very easy to identify. They have a shiny black or dark brown background. Each scale contains a cream-colored or yellow spot giving them a "speckled" appearance from which they get their common name.

Like nearly all snakes they consume vast amounts of rodents, but they are also very fond of reptiles, this includes lizards, but most especially other snakes. It is reported they can even kill and consume venomous snakes with no ill affects from the venom. It is believed they are immune to the proteins in the venom, the very same proteins that can cause devastating responses in mammals including humans. Or it could be they are just really good at not getting bit, either way they manage to eat a fair amount of rattlesnakes and copperheads. They will also eat birds, bird eggs and there is even a record that exists of one opportunistic kingsnake consuming turtle eggs.

Most snakes in Missouri mate in the spring (there are a few exceptions), and eggs are laid in April or May shortly after mating. Sometime in late summer or early fall the eggs will hatch. The new born snakes will be on their own and ready to hunt for their first meal. This species is not known to be especially defensive when approached or captured. They may shake their tail in response to being disturbed which sounds very much like a rattlesnake buzzing its tail. If you pick the snake up it may bite or worse yet, musk you in self-defense. Musking is something a snake can and often does to deter a potential predator. Musk is a mixture of feces, and oily musk the snake produces. It smells foul and is near to impossible to wash off your skin (trust me). I guess if a potential predator takes a good dose of musk to the face or mouth it might be enough to cause them to give up on their snakey meal or at the very least be taken aback enough to drop their meal and allow the snake a chance to escape. Generally though they will calm down quite quickly when handled.

Speckled kingsnakes are found in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, grasslands, agricultural areas, rocky timbered hillsides, and near marshes. It is not uncommon to find them under rocks, or old pieces of tin and other debris left out by humans. The one pictured above was found in a timbered area by a friend of mine while he was mushroom hunting with his daughters.

This blog post however is about a very special kingsnake, one that was found, not in it's natural habitat, but rather found in a kitchen in the middle of a large town. This blog post is about Spot, the educational ambassador of her kind.

Photo provided by: Susan Stiles
Our story begins prior to the year 2000, when the Missouri Department of Conservation in St. Joseph received a phone call from a woman who had a snake in her kitchen. As snakes generally don't hang out in kitchens this somewhat shocked our caller and she wanted to know if we could come rescue her (or the snake depending upon your viewpoint). She described the snake in detail and an agent was sent out to help her when it was determined the snake as most likely a speckled kingsnake and NOT a common snake to find in a city much less in a house. The agent returned a short time later with a beautiful speckled kingsnake. The decision was made to keep her and use her as an educational/program snake. She was held continuously and worked with to get her used to crowds and handling. This is important as the vast majority of our programs are done with small children and we can't have a nippy snake biting some unsuspecting child. She proved to be a patient, tolerant and friendly snake and became a permanent fixture at MDC. I became a volunteer in 2003 with MDC and immediately adored this snake. She was so sweet and easy to work with. I did countless programs with her and in 2010 I was hired as the naturalist and continued to use her for programs on a regular basis. She never once offered to bite or musk anyone and was so incredibly tolerant of all the little hands touching her and grabbing at her. Several years ago a group of kids I was doing a program for decided she needed a name and they graced her with the name "Spot." As they explained it...she is covered in SPOTS!

Photo provided by: Susan Stiles
In 2013 I began noticing some changes in her. Whenever I would take her to a program she would defecate all over the place. If you think musking sounds nasty, trust me when I say that is nothing compared to a full-on bowel movement dumped down the front of your shirt or pants. When this occurs in front of dozens of children and adults it takes on a whole new level of nastiness. After several attempts to bring her to programs and her continued bowel issue I finally came to the conclusion she was "over it" and ready to retire. I stopped using her at programs and presentations and she officially retired that year and I must say it was a well earned retirement.

In December of 2015 someone in our office noticed she had a large protrusion coming from her cloaca (vent). This had us concerned as we weren't sure if she had an egg bound up inside her or if she had a bowel blockage. A friend of mine looked at it and said to soak her daily in warm water and keep antibiotic ointment on it and hopefully she would pass whatever was causing the problem. After a week of soaking and using ointment there was no change in her condition. I made the decision to take her to a veterinarian I know named Dr. Roy Wilson at Rafter Cross Veterinary Clinic

He has been our go-to vet for several years whenever I have a snake that needs medical attention. He has helped us with a bullsnake that had mouthrot, an extremely old black snake (40 plus years old) that had cancer and had to be euthanized and a prairie kingsnake that had an upper respiratory infection.

He took one look at the growth and determined it was a fleshy tumor. We had her stretched out on the examining table and I happened to notice that the growth was not at her vent as we originally thought, but rather several inches above it. How in the world me and my friend made that mistake is anyone's guess, but suffice it to say we sure weren't paying attention. I asked Dr. Wilson what exactly he meant by fleshy tumor, and he replied that in most cases it means cancer. I was devastated. He reassured me that he felt confident that he could do surgery to remove the tumor and she would be okay, or at the very least having the tumor removed would ease her pain and would give her a fighting chance.

He took x-rays of the tumor to make sure that it had not spread to her ribs or spine and that surgery was even a viable option. It was determined that the tumor was in the abdominal cavity and had not spread into her bones. This was a good sign.
We scheduled surgery for the following week and he sent me home with pain medicine to give her to keep her comfortable until she had surgery. The following week came and so did a snow storm that dumped 4 inches of snow and ice on us. I had to make the decision to cancel the appointment and reschedule for the following week. Fortunately the weather cooperated for this appointment, and I was able to make the trip up north to his office. Dr. Wilson was kind enough to allow me to sit in on the surgery procedure and take photographs, and help him as his assistant was a little frightened of snakes and preferred to not handle our patient in anyway.

Waiting for the medicine to take effect.
We placed her in a large towel on top of a heating pad to warm her and then 
Dr. Wilson gave her a series of shots that included ketamine-diazepam to get good muscle relaxation with a local lidocaine, and meloxicam for analgesia. After about 20 minutes she was sedated enough to begin the procedure. He worked gently and calmly on her to remove a sizable mass from her abdomen.  We were both shocked at the size of the tumor and opening left behind. He knew sewing her up was going to be tricky as he could not pull her skin closed too tightly as it would constrict blood flow and could potentially cause all the tissue below the incision to die, essentially defeating the purpose of the surgery to begin with. He ultimately closed the four corners and put a few stitches through the center and instructed me to keep it clean and covered in antibiotic ointment and bandages. 


video

He placed the tumor in formalin and sent me home with it and the contact information to send it to a diagnostic center at MU in Columbia, MO. We were both exceedingly curious if it was indeed cancer or benign. He also provided pain medicine and instructions to keep her warm, and the wound clean. We scheduled a follow up visit for the next week.

I took her home and placed her in a clean cage lined with newspapers, and soft towels with a nice warm heat lamp over her. She was pretty lethargic for a couple of days and didn't move much, but by the third day she was moving from one end of the cage to the other and drinking. I gave her two pain shots over the course of the week before our return trip to Dr. Wilson. He looked at the incision and said all things considered it looked pretty good, but he wasn't ready to remove the stitches yet and we made another appointment for the following week to remove them and I told him he should be hearing from MU about the pathology on the tumor as I had put his contact info down.

He told me I should try and feed her, but I wasn't sure she would eat given what she had been through, plus she had appeared ready to shed her skin prior to the surgery. Generally snakes won't eat when they are ready to shed. I offered her two mice and it took her two days but she ate them both. Then she decided to shed and created a big mess for me. The shed skin got caught on the bandage and she could not slough it off all the way. I had to gently cut the bandage way while she slithered all over the table making it impossible for me to hold onto her. It was like wrangling a bag of cats. This was a sure sign she felt better. After numerous attempts I finally got the bandage cut off, then I had to cut the bunched up shed skin off of her. This also took quite awhile as I chased her all over the table trying to corral her while I cut the old skin and not cut good skin. FINALLY I had her free of that mess and back into a clean cage and fed her an additional mouse which she ate.

Right before removing stitches

Snip snip
I returned to Dr. Wilson the following week during a snowstorm that caused slick roads and blinding snowfall. I slid through a stop sign and spun out more than once and debated whether or not to reschedule, but I was determined to get those stitches out.


A warm place to hide: my sleeve
Whatcha doing back there Doc?
Looking good all things considered

After removing the stitches he gave me the news from MU that the pathology report showed it was indeed cancer. Her prognosis is guarded, which as Dr. Wilson pointed out is better than fair and MUCH better than grave. SO in other words she has a chance. We will keep an eye on her and if we see the beginnings of anymore tumors the difficult decision to euthanyze her may have to be made, but for now we will be glad in the moment that she survived the surgery and has a fighting chance to be with us for a few more years.


Resting
Without Dr. Wilson's willingness to perform the surgery our "Spot" would have had no chance at all. I am indebted to him and his dedication to help ALL creatures no matter their species. I've been asked many times since this process began "Why save a snake?" my only answer is "Why not?" To do anything less for this snake is a dishonor to her and all she has done to help people overcome their fear and loathing of snakes. Her gentle, patient, tolerant nature has earned her many fans, even among self-professed snake haters. Thank you Dr. Wilson for giving our friend a chance!





Thursday, January 7, 2016

Red-Legged Grasshopper


Red-Legged Grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum) are in the sub-family of grasshoppers known as Spur-throated grasshoppers.These are very common grasshoppers and are found throughout all of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. They are probably one of the most widespread of all the grasshoppers. They are found in weedy, grassy areas especially near cultivated land, meadows, roadsides, prairies, open woods and backyards. They feed on a wide variety of grasses and forbes. This will include many forage crops like clover and alfalfa. These are not a large grasshopper, in comparison to the much larger differential grasshopper these are rather small to medium sized grasshoppers. They can vary in color from dull reddish to brown. The hind legs have a reddish tint to them, from whence they get their common name. Females will lay eggs within the ground, and these eggs overwinter. 


In the spring they hatch and begin feeding on grasses. As they grow to adulthood they will
 consume large amounts of grasses and can be very injurious to numerous forage crops. In large numbers they can cause significant financial losses to these agricultural industries. They are a "Boom or Bust" species whose populatoins fluctuate depending on the food sources available to them. In times of food shortages they will grow longer wings made for long distance flying and will travel to new locations where food sources are better. On rare occasions they have shown a tendency to large mass flights, but this is rare. They usually tend to be solitary in their lifestyle. I find these little hoppers all over near our garden and the grassy areas near our old pond. They are secretive and somewhat hard to approach. I find them to be a challenge to take photographs of as they are quick to startle and hop or fly away and are capable of flying for distances up to 40 feet. This past summer and fall was a great grasshopper season with excessive amounts of these hoppers all over the place. The mild winter of last year and the wet mild spring and summer seemed to be conducive to grasshopper populations.

If you raise chickens or other fowl 
these grasshoppers can pose a possible health risk to your flock.
Poultry tapeworms and other poultry parasites use this species as an intermediate host, so chickens, turkeys and other poultry that eat these grasshoppers can potentially acquire these parasites. Various flies, worms, slugs, snails, ants, beetles and more can be vectors for poultry parasites, too.
In addition wild game birds such as turkey and quail consume these grasshoppers, which can at times be abundant. As with domestic fowl, wild fowl can acquire parasites from eating these grasshoppers. Fortunately, unless the infestation is severe or the bird weakened, the parasites don’t usually cause death.  



Monday, November 30, 2015

Metallic Sweatbee

This beautiful bee is one of the metallic sweatbees within the genus Agapostemon, known as A. spendens. There are 45 species within this genus and all occur within the western hemisphere, of those 45 species, 14 are found within Canada and the United States. Metallic sweatbees are commonly encountered during the hot summer months. They can be found on a wide variety of flowers, but seem to favor sunflowers or sunflower-like flowers. Like most bees they have specialized hairs on their legs that allow them to "pick up" pollen as they forage on blooming flowers. Bees within this genus specialize on pollen, in fact Agapostemon translates to "Stamen Loving". The stamen refers to the portion of the plant that produces pollen.

Many species of sweat bees are attracted to humans and will seek us out to lap up the sweat on our bodies. They glean salt and moisture from the by-product we produce when overexerted. Often these bees will sting with no provocation, and for such a tiny bee they can give a wallop of a sting too. Metallic sweatbees however have  little to no preference for lapping at our sweat covered bodies. Although I have been on the receiving end of a few stings by this species when one lands on me for a salty drink and I am unaware that it is there and I inadvertently bend my knee or elbow and POW I am stung for accidentally squishing the poor bee in the crevice of those joints. Why do they always seem to favor those sensitive areas? Usually though they seem to prefer to hang out in our gardens busily visiting flowers. This habit of flying from flower-to-flower provides valuable pollination of many plants. Many people associate pollination with honey bees, and while honey bees are the poster bee for pollination, there are still numerous native bees that provide this service as well, and often times they are as proficient or at least nearly so, as the famous honey bee.

Metallic sweatbees are almost always solitary ground nesters and will dig a tunnel that may have a mound of loose soil or sand at the entrance. Burrows will be created off the main tunnel in which the female provisions with a combination of nectar and pollen in a little pollen-ball. They will lay an egg on this ball of sweetness and then seal up the entrance to the burrow. When the egg hatches it will have enough food to complete it's lifecycle. Some species of metallic sweatbees will nest in a communal nest of sorts......they share the same entrance, but each female (up to 20) will create their own separate burrows to lay their eggs. A. spendens is known to be completely solitary and places single burrows scattered across vast areas, which makes them hard to find.

This species is approximately 3/8-1/2 inch in length making them a medium sized bee and quite large for a sweatbee, which are typically tiny at approximately 1/4 inch or smaller. Males will usually have a striped abdomen and females generally have a solid metallic abdomen like the rest of their body. Some species may be metallic blue, gold or even black, but green seems to be the most common color seen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Straight-Lanced Meadow Katydid

Female
The Straight-Lanced Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus strictus) is a commonly encountered katydid of grasslands, fence rows and other dry grassy areas. They are found east of the Rocky Mountains with exception of Florida, North Dakota and the northeastern states. There are two basic types of meadow katydids the Conocephalus which are the smaller meadow katydids and the Orchelimum which are the larger meadow katydids (like the black-legged meadow katydid). Of the smaller meadow katydids the straight-lanced species is more heavily bodied in appearance. The female has a long, straight ovipositor that easily exceeds the length of her body. It is this oversized appendage that earned them their common name. Even the males seems excessively endowed and feature larger than average cerci.
This species comes in two forms, a short-winged form with wings that extend 1/3 to 2/3 the length of the body. They will measure about 3/4 of inch in length. The long-winged form have wings that extend past the abdomen, and their overall length will be a little more than a inch.

Male

Males attract females with song and call out incessantly once they reach adult size. When a suitable female has been serenaded and is receptive to his attention mating will take place. Females will use their long ovipositor to scissor into plant stems in which to deposit their eggs. A single female is capable of laying 1,000's of eggs that will overwinter and hatch the following spring. Nymphs are born looking very much like their adult counterparts. They lack wings and reproductive organs. After several molts they will reach adult size sometime in mid-summer. Mating will take place shortly after that and the cycle will begin again.

The sounds I associate with summer are the call of the katydids and cicadas. Each song is as unique as the species creating it. It is possible to identify individual species by sound alone. Challenge yourself to learn the songs and see how many species you can identify, of course it might be
challenge enough to just locate the noise maker among the vegetation. Many katydids are camouflage experts and nearly impossible to see among the plants. This particular species is not prone to hopping away when disturbed, instead they tend to flatten themselves out, stretching their legs behind them, holding their body as close to the substrate or plant surface as they can, in the hopes that you will not see them. It seems to be a pretty good strategy as it took me awhile to spot the individuals photographed here.

Like most insects these katydids are not without predators. Birds, frogs, mammals, and other invertebrates all savor these tasty morsels. The great-golden digger wasp is a solitary wasp that seems to favor katydids as a food source for their offspring.
Great Golden Digger Wasp
A female wasp will locate a katydid, sting it to paralyze it, then she will drag it to a ready-made burrow. She will pull the paralyzed katydid into the burrow and deposit one or more eggs on the unlucky victim. The egg(s) hatch and the wasp grub will begin feeding on this fresh supply of food. The feeding activities of the grub will not kill the katydid quickly. The grub seems to know not to eat any vital organs until right before it is ready to pupate. It seems a gruesome fate for the katydid, but the wasp has to eat too, right?

Generally this species is green , but darker specimens are also found, like pictured here. The eyes are typically pale, almost white, but may also have pale peach or reddish eyes. So variability is common is this species.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Six-Spotted Fishing Spider

The Six-Spotted Fishing Spiders (Dolomedes triton) are pretty common in Missouri as well as throughout much of their range. They are easy to identify by their greenish-brown bodies and white stripes on their cephalothorax, and along the edge of their abdomen as well as the twelve white spots running in two rows along the top of their abdomen. It is the six black spots on their underside that gives them their common name.
They can get pretty large with a body measurement up to one inch and a legspan twice that large.

They will be found along the shoreline of shallow calm waters, like ponds, lakes, marshes and slow-moving streams. They will walk on the aquatic plants hunting for insects to eat. These spiders are unique in being one of the few creatures able to walk on water. They can also dive underneath the water, row across the surface, and glide. They can walk down aquatic plants beneath the surface of the water and can remain under water for up to 30 minutes by trapping an air bubble between their legs that they will use to breath oxygen. They glide by remaining perfectly still on the surface of the water and letting the wind blow them to new locations and hunting grounds. They walk on water with specially adapted hairs on their legs. Rowing is done by using some of their legs as oars to motivate them across the surface of the water.

Fishing spiders can escape predators in a number of ways, by jumping straight in the air, running rapidly across the water or diving below the surface. Even on land they are quite quick and able to run away from danger. They will always be found near plants whether in the water or on the shore. This allows them to hide from predators.

These spiders are excellent hunters and have a lot of choices available to them.
They will feed on aquatic insects as well as terrestrial insects, but more often than not they will scavenge on insects, like the one pictured here that captured a damselfly, which happened to fall into the water and could not escape again.  Larger fishing spiders will even attack young newts, small frogs, tadpoles and minnows.

Female fishing spiders are larger than the males, and females will not hesitate to kill and eat a male fishing spider if the opportunity arises. When a male approaches a female that has already mated she will most likely eat him. The male seriously lives life on the edge. Females lay their eggs inside a silken sac that she will carry to the shore and hide among the plants. She will remain near the egg sac and guard it until the eggs hatch. She will even remain with the spiderlings until they are ready to disperse. The spiderlings will over winter two times before they are old enough to mate.

Even though these spiders are apex hunters they still have to be ever vigilant of predators such as frogs, fish and birds. Excellent eyesight gives them an added advantage when avoiding predation.
These spiders are active during the day and are easily seen as they rest on the aquatic plants floating on top the waters surfaces. I've seen a dozen or more of these spiders already this year.

Recently while leading a group of school children to the pond at work where we planned to dip for aquatic insects, tadpoles and anything else we could capture in our nets to learn about, the kids caught one of these spiders. I placed it in the shallow tub of water we had sitting on the shoreline. Along with her there was also numerous aquatic lifeforms the kids had captured inside this same tub. When I checked on her a few minutes later she had taken full advantaged of the insects that were unable to escape and had caught a water bug. She was busy chowing down on this opportunistic meal that was provided for her when several of the kids came over to watch her eat. She grew tired very quickly of all the eyes peering down at her and she made a dash for the side of the small tub she was in and jumped ship right over the edge and ran like crazy for the pond, with the water bug still held firmly in her mouth. We let her go about her business and the kids thought it was pretty awesome to see her capture her prey, kill it and eat it....then run away with it as if we planned to steal it from her.

I wish I would have had a camera with me at that time to capture this moment with the kids and the awe and wonder they expressed at the smallest of creatures.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Winding Mantleslug

While in the Smoky Mountains this summer I came across this mottled looking slug clinging to the side of a deciduous tree in the mosses growing there. It was about 2 or 3 inches in length and was different from the slugs I typically see at home. I posted a pictured on Facebook and Marla Coppolino from Cornell University, who happens to be a slug and snail enthusiast and expert ID'd it quickly as Philomycus flexuolaris, the winding mantleslug. 


Marla explained to me that these slugs are beneficial to the environment, unlike many species of invasive slugs that show up in our green houses and gardens and feed on your prized vegetables or flowers, these slugs inhabit hardwood forests within the Appalachian Mountains. Winding Mantleslugs break down organic matter, like fallen leaves, lichens, and mushrooms in the forests where they live which enriches the soil, providing necessary nutrients for plant growth. They are often found feeding at night during the rainy season, and it is not uncommon to find several specimens on a single tree with intertwining slim trails leading them to food sources.

These slugs can vary in color from tan to gray and typically have a mottled or marbled appearance with darker brown blotches. When alarmed they will produce a yellowish mucus that is distasteful to potential predators. This slim also leaves behind a specific scent that helps them find potential mates, in addition it keeps their bodies moist and lubricated so they do not desiccate (dry out). Slugs and snails are so slimy with mucus they can even crawl across the edge of a razor blade with no fear of harm!! 

Because slugs are moist environment inhabitants, they cannot tolerate arid or hot temperatures. During the driest, and hottest parts of the year these slugs find sheltered areas to wait out the inhospitable climate in a form of hibernation called aestivation. They will be found under the bark of trees, within rotting logs and stumps and under leaf litter on the forest floor. When the weather is more to their liking they will become active again. 

While slugs and snails may not be everyone's cup-o-tea, I find them fascinating and interesting creatures and never tire of finding them.




Friday, October 2, 2015

White-Banded Fishing Spider

This uniquely beautiful spider is the White-Banded Fishing Spider (Dolomedes albineus). In July of this year my husband and I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee for a much needed vacation and to spend as much time as we could outside hiking and fishing and getting all the fresh air we could handle. We rented a cabin in the woods and were completely isolated from people, which was just the way we liked it. One morning as we headed out to a hiking destination, Joey noticed a large spider dangling from a strand of webbing on the eave of the cabin. I managed to get the spider down and did not recognize it, but I did recognize it was dying. We saw scant few insects or spiders around this cabin so my guess is the owner of the cabin probably sprays it for pests. I suppose many people appreciate that service when they stay there, but I for one found it incredibly disappointing. I love traveling and discovering new invertebrate life. I took a few pictures of this spider and then placed it in a safe area to spend its last few moments of life.

I submitted the pictures to bugguide.net and within a day or two had an answer as to the species, White-Banded Fishing Spider. I've seen many fishing spiders around my home in NW Missouri, but this one is so much more colorful and dare I say beautiful than the ones we have. This particular species of fishing spider is not known to be in Missouri, although they are found throughout the Eastern United States. I'm not sure how far west in Tennessee they occur, as this one was found about an hour west of North Carolina in a little town called Sevierville. It would be interesting to know if anymore research has been done to determine if these have made it across the river into Southeastern or Eastern Missouri.

The common name of "fishing spider" would imply they live near water, and while that is true to some degree, they are also found quite frequently some distance from water, especially in damp woodland settings, like our cabin. While there was water near the cabin where this specimen was found it was nothing more than a narrow drainage ditch that ran alongside the cabin, almost like a tiny creek. It would only hold water if there was runoff from the surrounding hillsides or a recent rainfall. These spiders feed on a wide variety of insects, other spiders, and even tiny minnows and other small fish if they are able to catch them.

If found near water they will sit along the shore and rest their front legs on the surface of the water waiting for vibrations that will alert them to possible prey nearby. They are able to dart out across the water and grab unsuspecting aquatic insects. Some reports indicate that they may also capture small fish when the opportunity arises.


These spiders may live a couple of years or more and tuck themselves away in sheltered areas, including basements, cellars or under the bark of trees during the winters months in a form of hibernation. Mating will take place in the spring soon after hibernation. The female will form an egg sac sometime in June that she will carry with her. This maternal care helps guarantee that the spiderlings will hatch and get the best start possible free from predation. Egg sacs may contain up to 1000 individual spiderlings and hatch sometime between July and September. The young spiders will overwinter under the bark of trees, under logs, or rocks or in leaf litter. When spring arrives the cycle starts over.

While these spiders are large they are not aggressive. They are more likely to flee than stand their ground. Bites typically occur when they are mishandled. The bite is no more severe than a bee sting, however if you are allergic to bee venom or spider venom possible serious reactions can occur.
 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Short-Winged Meadow Katydid

The Short-Winged Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus brevipennis) belongs to the family Tettigoniidae and the subfamily Conocephalinae which are the meadow katydids. There are 39 species of meadow katydids in the United States and Canada with 19 species in the genus Conocephalus. They are smaller, slimmer katydids than their cousins in the genus Orchelimum which also has 19 species , the last remaining katydid in this subfamily is the wingless meadow katydid (Odontoxiphidium apterum).

The short-winged meadow katydid is small at about 1/2 to 1 inch in length. What they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Their bodies are a kaleidoscope of of orange, brown, yellow, and greens. As their name suggests their wings are short and barely extend halfway down their bodies. Although there are a few specimens that will have longer wings that extend nearly to the tip of their abdomen.

Males have two little appendages at the tip of their abdomen (shown to the right). Females will have an ovipositor protruding from theirs that is used for depositing eggs in the ground after mating. By August these katydids have reached their adult-size and will begin calling for mates, singing out day and night. Eggs will overwinter in the ground and hatch in the spring. As soon as the ground warms in the spring the eggs hatch and the young katydid nymphs will emerge from the soil and begin feeding. These tiny offspring are almost mirror images of their adult counterparts.

You can find them in grasslands, prairies, meadows and other grassy or weedy areas, especially near swamps, creeks, and other damp areas. They are native to the Eastern and Central North America from South Dakota to Maine.





Friday, September 18, 2015

White-Lined Sphinx Moth

Sphinx moths go by many names, such as Hummingbird Moths, Hawk Moths and Hornworms. The one pictured here is called a White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata). They are an averaged sized sphinx moth with a wingspan up to 3 inches. This particular species is widespread and found throughout most of North America, Central America, West Indies, Eurasia, and Africa. White-Lined Sphinx Moths can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from desert, garden,and meadows, like most sphinx moths they are most active during dusk and nighttime hours. Although they will fly during the day as well. Mating between males and females usually takes place at dusk. Females will lay eggs on a wide variety of plants, which will include, but not limited to, Four O'Clock's (Picture #2), Willow Weed, Evening Primrose, Tomato, Elm, Grape, Purslane, Apple, and Fuschia. 


After reaching full size, like pictured here,  the caterpillar will crawl to the ground and burrow into a shallow depression in the soil and pupate. They will spend the winter in this stage. Massive population buildups occur which encourage them to head north and populate those regions.

Occasional outbreaks of these caterpillars have caused significant damage to tomato, grapes and garden crops in Utah. The adults nectar at a huge variety of flowers including Columbine, Petunia, Larkspur, Honeysuckle, Lilac, Wild Phlox, Moonvine, Jimpson Weed, Clovers, Bouncing Bet and Thistles. They are often attracted to lights at night, sometimes in large numbers. The whirring sound of their wings is what earned them their other common name of Hummingbird Moth. In Missouri there are probably two generations per year, with the last generation overwintering as a pupa.