Perplexa Needs Help

by Eric Neubauer

“I’m perplexa, and I’ve been lost in the scientific wilderness for nearly 90 years. Can you help me find my siblings?”

Most who have done taxonomic research have run into at least one of those “lost” species that once identified seem to be forgotten. Some are later determined to be a synonym for an earlier species. Others apparently disappear from the ecosystem. Whatever the reason, the Lycosidae family is littered with more than its share. One of those species is doing well enough in Milam County to be found in a second location early this February. It has also been found in a few scattered locations in Texas as well as one in Ohio. Is it exceptionally rare? Is it as sneaky as the Texas panther? It’s impossible to know.

Schizocosa perplexa is a medium sized wolf spider. Its tans, browns, and blacks are a bit richer than other Schizocosa species, and the legs are orange-red under the covering hairs. Its black tummy (venter) is uniquely spectacular with a thin, pale tan stripe down the middle and dozens of pale tan spots and dashes on either side. The unique venter pattern makes species identification easy, but a ventral view is needed to be see it. When I finished taking photos, I let the spider walk out of the container into my hand. I could feel him move slowly to the edge of my palm, pause for an instant, and then hop onto the ground which was about 9″ lower. An awesome experience with a “lost” species.

Here is the species history from the human perspective:

1. 3/25/1935 male only collected at Garland Swimming Pool in Dallas by S. Jones
2. 12/36 male only first described by Elizabeth B. Bryant at Cambridge, MA
3. 1937-1977 crickets?
4. 1978 C.D. Dondale and J.H. Redner decide to exclude perplexa from their revision of the Schizocosa genus, probably due to lack of information.
5. 1979-2017 crickets?
6. 4/14/2018 Sara Jane Rose finds one in Ohio
7. 5/21/2018 Sara Jane Rose uploads and observation on iNaturalist
8. 5/26/2018 Scott Snyder sees a female with egg sac near Temple and uploads observation on iNaturalist. Not identified until 2 years later by me.
9. 5/27/2020 I start seeing these and soon suspect they are perplexa based on Sara Rose’s observation.
10. 3/15/2021 I finally get a ventral view and confirm species.
11. 5/1/2021 Meghan Cassidy (who tentatively identified mine early on) finds a female at Lewisville Lake and uploads observation on iNaturalist.

An early lack of interest and/or funding was likely why it took 83 years to find out what a female looked like. The species deserved more follow up than it got, and that’s something amateur scientists have helped with. As far as I know, I’m the only one who has seen these in the wild on a regular basis. Little is known about their lifestyle, but I can speculate. Evidently, they have a huge range, but only a few locations are known. This year I found late perplexa juveniles at the edge of vernal ponds in wooded areas. A common, smaller Schizocosa species was also present. The smaller species may have been there in search of aquatic insect larvae, and perplexa in search of the smaller Schizocosa. Based on previous observations, the perplexa adults have a greater tendency to be found among died leaves and wander about. If vernal ponds in wooded areas are essential to perplexa growth, flood control projects have probably resulted in insignificantly reduced habitat for them. At the same time, the large number of ponds and lakes have greatly benefited Pardosa wolf spiders.

A Fly Mystery

by Eric Neubauer, elaborated upon by Sue Ann Kendall

A long while back I observed about a half dozen flies of an unknown species, which baffled everyone on iNaturalist. The genus has finally been identified.

Visit the observation on iNaturalist if you want to learn how experts go about narrowing down what genus and species an observation might be. The users aispinsects (Arturo Santos) and tpape (Dr. Thomas Pape of the Natural History Museum of Denmark) worked together through the ID process under that observation, though most was done by Santos. Thank goodness the photos were so good, as details like veining are very helpful in identifying flies. It’s gratifying to see two true experts helping out with the identification of this unusual fly with very small eyes and an atypical head shape.

One thing we do know about these flies is that the fly maggots are parasitic on lizards. You can see an infected anole lizard on the iNat page for Lepidodexia if your stomach is strong (that’s from Sue Ann).

As often happens with the oddities I get fixated on, I’m immediately top observer. There are only ten observations of the Lepidodexia on iNat at present (one new one happened recently). No doubt there are others as yet unidentified.

I need to look at flies some more.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Pape’s comments. He thinks he knows the species for the fly, but is not sure:

“The large flesh fly genus Lepidodexia is mainly Neotropical and has several very tachinid-like species. There are a few Nearctic species, and the present certainly fits the genus and may very well be Lepidodexia hirculus, see:
Very little is known on the biology of species of Lepidodexia, but they include as varied breeding records as live frogs, lizards, snails and earthworms.”

Santos is a wonderful contributor to iNat and has helped identify many flies around the world. He’s a citizen scientist at its best!

Johnson Grass Postscript

by Eric Neubauer

Johnsongrass round postscript: This morning there was a flock of LBBs (little brown birds) on top of it. I couldn’t entice a single bird to come to my feeder in a year. Go figure.

Little brown birds par excellence, the English sparrow Passer domesticus. Photo by Sue Ann Kendall

Late yesterday there was a shrike and a kestrel sitting on the wire above the round.

Loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus. Photo by Sue Ann Kendall.

Also, the pulled-up Johnsongrass is a commodity. The trashman stopped by and asked if I wanted to throw the grass I had just pulled in the truck, but I said, “No, it goes down there,” pointing at the round.

Reconnecting with the Forgotten Spiders of Texas

by Eric Neubauer

Or: The most exciting part of the conference (for me) was getting there!

I’ve been chasing Pardosa wolf spiders from one corner of Texas to another all year. One species I hadn’t encountered was Pardosa littoralis, which I eventually learned was only found in brackish
marshland. I had wanted to check out the Texas coast for wolf spiders for sometime, and the TMN convention gave me an excellent excuse.

So, I drove to Houston via Surfside and Galveston. No one on iNat had encountered Pardosa littoralis south of New York, let alone Texas. They’d been observed in New Hampshire and Nova Scotia at the opposite end of their range. I happily found some in small areas at several locations without a muddy mishap.

I wonder when the last human paid them any attention? Someone must have once, because they were known to be in Texas. Bonus: I’m now comfortable identifying these in Texas, something I couldn’t do before, since I never saw one in person or even in a photo, only those in observations made 2,000 miles away.

Male (left) and female (right) images attached. Body length about 2/10ths of an inch, male (black) slightly smaller than female.

Farewell to the Garden Spiders

by Eric Neubauer

Fall is a sad time of year for some. I had garden spiders arrayed around my house again this year. One picked a low spot between the porch and skirting. It was a good spot at first and she grew quickly. There were lots of suitors while she was the only show in town, including some from the other species.

Argiope aurantia

About that time, she wasn’t catching anything and looked like she might be starving to death, so I started throwing differential grasshoppers into her web. After a while she was doing OK on her own, so I stopped. In all she produced six egg sacs. No other spider came close and most never produced a single sac. After the last sac, she caught no more grasshoppers and died about a week after the photo was taken.

Egg sacs ad what appears to be a former suitor