Monday, August 28, 2017

Rabid Wolf Spider

With a name like Rabid Wolf Spider, they sound like the stuff of nightmares and for anyone with arachnophobia these large, often defensive spiders would be. While the name suggests a maniacal, crazed spider that will chase you down and attack you, this simply is not true. While they are prone to stand their ground and may behave in a way that suggests aggression, they usually will choose to run away. Like all spiders they have venom that is used to liquefy the insides of their insect prey, the venom isn't known to hold any medical significance to humans though. While harmless, the bite would be painful, after all they do have large fangs.

Rabid Wolf Spiders (Rabidosa rabida) are found throughout the Eastern United States and are more frequently encountered in the fall when the large females are roaming around, often carrying an egg sac with them, or perhaps a passel of spiderlings on their backs. They are very protective, attentive mothers that will carry their offspring with them for up to 6 months. This added protection helps guarantee their protege will survive to carry on theirs and their partners genetics to the next generation.

There are several species of wolf spiders in this genus, and there is one that looks almost identical to the Rabid Wolf Spider. The Dotted Wolf Spider (Rabidosa punctulata) has a series of dots on their abdomen, if you are able to see them. Both are predominately yellow with bold dark brown or black stripes. On the Rabid Wolf Spider, the stripe is wavy and enclosed by lighter areas. The males have black front legs. Both are large with body lengths up to 1 inch and legspans up to 3 inches.
Rabid Wolf Spider
Dotted Wolf Spider

Depending upon how you feel about spiders, if you want to find them look in wooded areas, in areas where trash piles up, near ponds or other water sources and they seem especially fond of cotton fields.....or if you don't wish to find them avoid those types of places.

Unlike orb weavers that build beautiful, elaborate webs, wolf spiders use silk to create egg sacs for their eggs and to wrap their food up to consume later. They do not create webs for capturing prey, instead they are wandering spiders that roam around looking for good hunting grounds, then they will sit and wait for food to come to them. They will slowly stalk any prey that happens to wander too close, and then pounce, much like a cat would do, grabbing their prey and injecting venom that begins dissolving tissue which allows the spider to slurp out the liquefied insides like an insect slurpee. Some liken their behavior to wolves who also stalk their prey, and this wolf-like or dog-like stalking behavior is what earned them the common name of wolf spiders.
They are predominantly nocturnal, and hunt for food under the protection of nightfall. Wolf spiders make huge protein packed meals for hungry birds and other animals.

This particular species is long lived for a spider and may live up to 2 years or little longer. In colder climates they will hide out under logs, behind the bark of trees or in human structures. I find wolf spiders in my basement frequently and they are allowed to stay for the free insect control they provide. If they make it upstairs in my living area I gently escort them outside.

If you have have a phobia of spiders the thought of letting a spider live outside your home can bring about a panic attack, letting them live inside your house is down right unthinkable. I understand this completely as someone who had arachnophobia most of her life. I spent 4 years conquering my fear and now I am enamored with spiders and own 3 tarantulas. No more killing spider for me. I would encourage others to let the spiders live and try to put your fear aside and recognize the good they are doing by getting rid of harmful insects like cockroaches, crickets and other pests.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Say's Caterpillar Hunter

Recently at one of our pole lights this large black beetle was scurrying along the ground in frantic movements as if on mission to find something, but as if it had no idea what. Either that or it was drunk. These beetles are large, devilishly fast and difficult to photograph.

Like their common name Caterpillar Hunter suggests they are fond of eating caterpillars, but will also eat other insects when available. Because of their preference for caterpillars they are certainly to be considered a friend to farmers, gardeners, and anyone else that grows food which is fed upon by various munching caterpillars. Two of their favorite caterpillars are the gypsy moth and army worm offspring! Talk about free beneficial insect control!!

The Say's Caterpillar Hunter (Calosoma sayi) also goes by the name of the Black Caterpillar Hunter, for obvious reasons. Their body is overall black, and somewhat shiny, although there is bluish-green margins which is not always visible upon first glance. The elytra (wings) have a rows of reddish (or sometimes green) colored dots down them. They may reach lengths over an inch, but appear much bigger because of their long legs and fast movements.

They are more common in the Southern and Eastern United States, but may be found throughout most of the Country.

Look for them near crop fields, beaches, and in disturbed areas under stones, leaf litter, and wood piles, where they hide out during the day. They become active at dusk and search for food all night. They are especially active at dawn before hiding away during the day.

After mating, the female will lay eggs in the soil where the grubs will feed on beetle larvae. Once they emerge as adults they may live up to 3 years, which is especially long lived for a beetle.

 I noticed when I handled this one it gave off a somewhat offensive odor. I am assuming this is a defensive response to being bothered. Many animals, including insects give off a musky smell that tastes bad to would-be predators. To a beetle, even one this large, I must have looked like a massive predator because he released a mega amount of foul, odoriferous musk that had me releasing him quickly and me washing my hands as soon as I could. I would assume  if you harassed one too much it could give a pretty good pinch with those sizeable mandibles, fortunately I did not find out.

While this species may look scary and intimidating, that is not a good reason to kill it. Instead try learning about the critters that share your yard and garden and you may find they are unlikely friends. Often unbeknownst to us while they are going about their daily activities they are helping your garden be more productive and healthy.