Amazing Things in Nature

by Eric Neubauer

Finding a funnel web a couple of feet off the ground is unusual, and more so when it uses a knot hole as a focal point. This shows nearly as much “intelligence” and behavioral flexibility as using something in the environment as a tool.

Funnel weaver nests are usually on the ground, above a hole

So, where does that “intelligence” reside? I can see two main conclusions: First that intelligence is no big deal after all, and second that intelligence must reside outside the physical being. However it seems logical that the expression of “intelligence” would be subject to the limitations of the physical being.

Here you see the spider peeking out of the knothole it’s used for a “hole.”

As far as intelligence residing outside the physical being, one of the unique characteristics of life is its ability to act with purpose which is something that lies outside of the laws of physics anyway.

Boopedon gracile: A Photo Essay

by Eric Neubauer

All photos copyright 2020, Eric Neubauer.

Boopedon gracile, the Prairie Boopie

Fact Sheet

• Range is south-central Great Plains into Mexico.
• 26th most commonly observed grasshopper in Texas at iNaturalist.
• Eye oval in shape, less curved in front; dark with fine tan mottling.
• Thin black stripe extends from front of eye, just over and past antenna.
• Female has vestigial wings and is flightless.
• Male has functional wings which usually extend beyond the abdomen.
• Most have black “eyebrow”, curved on top and flattened on bottom.
• Light dorsal stripes on pronotum are parallel toward front rather than pinched, then widening and fading toward back; slight pinching on males.
• Front lateral edge of pronotum usually light.
• Abdomen with black sides appears striped as segments have pale trailing edge. Black may be eroded, especially on females. Top of abdomen is pale.
• Hind femur strongly banded on male
• Outside of femur on female mostly black; back and inside may show banding.
• Hind tibia violet on at least one female; apparently tibiae not colored on instars.
• Female colors tan, green, and black.
• Male colors dark brown, black, and yellowish tan.

The habits of this species aren’t well known. Photos of male abdomen and most instars are lacking here.

More Photos

Female with a lot of green
Female with a little green
Two more examples
Female showing violet tibiae
Left: yellowish female. Right: female with longer wings
Typical males
Typical male
Light male
Youngsters

You are welcome to download this PDF of the photo essay. Click the Download link below.

Reference:

https://idtools.org/id/grasshoppers/factsheet.php?name=17690

Note: Boopedon nubilium is found in western Texas. The male is black. The typical female is mostly pale brown and somewhat similar to B. gracile.

Wolf Spider Mystery

by Eric Neubauer

I’ve been watching a large population of Hogna wolf spiders growing up on my property since winter. I’ve submitted photographs to both iNaturalist and BugGuide, and people there don’t hesitate to confirm them all as Hogna antelucana.

Specimen of hogna wolf spider with the vee shape pinched shut.

Nevertheless, I found I can easily sort them into two groups from a fairly young age on. The markings on this species are quite variable in general, but one reliable difference between the two groups is in a lightly colored vee shape near the back of the head. The vee points toward the back and is open at about a 35 degree angle on one type and is pinched shut on the other.

Specimen with an open vee shape.

There are other small differences, but they are harder to define and less consistent.

At first I thought it might be a case of sexual dimmorphism, but lately I think there may be two different species.

The dark one.

The third example has the open vee, hard to see because the spider is looking up, and is very dark with none of the warmer tones these spiders usually have. It is the only one like that I’ve seen and perhaps lacks the ability to produce an orangish pigment.

It is one of several mysteries to keeping life interesting.

A Fly Named Anthrax pluto

by Eric Neubauer

When I review my photos and decide what to upload to iNaturalist, the first thing I do is separate them into broad categories such as flies aka Diptera, and today was the day to work on that group. One was this shaggy, spotted fly found in a wooded area near Alligator Creek.

Sue Ann now declares this her SECOND favorite fly.

I don’t know my flies very well, and trying to identify one I’ve never seen before is like going down Alice’s rabbit hole.

There are so many different kinds of flies. A fair number don’t even have a single observation at iNaturalist, but I thought this one was distinctive enough and I might get lucky. Way down in the low double digit observation totals of Texas flies, I finally found one with similar spots. It was in the Anthrax genus which I’ve never encountered before.

The word “similar” is a dangerous one and it has burned me before, so the next logical step was to search the genus Anthrax in Texas. And what do you know, there was another nearly identical species down in the single digits! Now, how am I going to tell them apart?

The only consistent difference I could see was that the leading edge of the wing of one was solid black and alternated between black and clear on the other. Mine was the one with 7 observations, now increased to 8. The only other observations for this species in North America are four in eastern Canada, oddly enough.

Making the Best Out of the Materials You Have Available

… the essence of engineering

by Eric Neubauer

I was hardly a fan of spiders, but circumstances have determined otherwise. The pandemic has kept me almost exclusively at home, and the Texas Blacklands appear to be excellent habitat for wolf spiders (Lycosidae).

In the past, getting identifications down to the species level almost always ended up in frustration, except for Rabidosa rabida. I have identified at least three other genera on my property, and there are likely to be more.

Rabid Wolf Spider Rabidosa rabida. Photo by the author.

This year, I decided to make observations of them as they grew up. My goal was to upload at least a hundred observations to iNaturalist before trying to identify them down to species level. I passed my goal by getting 23 in 43 minutes a few days ago.

This Thin-legged Wolf Spider (Genus Pardosa) is a young one. Photo by the author.

Lycosidae are generally considered nocturnal, but this isn’t entirely true. Daytime hunting is hit or miss, but a combination of high humidity after a rain, temperatures in the high 70s, and cloudy skies apparently combined to bring them out in the middle of the day.

This one is not identified yet. Photo by the author.

There is also a matter of technique. I’ve found that closely cut grass next to high grass is the best place to look and photograph them. You can just walk around slowly and watch for movement, but many will escape into the high grass. If you lead with one foot along the edge of the high grass, this flushes more of them into the low grass where they can be photographed.

There is one particular species that is so well camouflaged it’s impossible to see unless it moves. Right now, they are mostly a half to an inch long including the legs, and they are old enough to identify the genus.

Brush-legged Split Wolf Spider Schizocosa ocreata. Photo by the author.

You may also see holes of various sizes in the ground. At present, many are probably Lycosidae burrows. They can be enticed out with a blade of grass, but I’ve found they disappear back down their burrows too quickly to photograph, making it a two person job whenever that becomes an option again.

My habitat is returning prairie on blackland with paths mown through the high grass. Confirmed genera: Hogna, Pardosa, Rabidosa, and Schizocosa. Other non-Lycosidae genera including Dolomedes are encountered.