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.

Scientific Names for Spiders Are Handy

by Eric Neubauer

When we learned about scientific names in the training classes, we were introduced to how the name of the person that initially described them is often appended to the name. At the time, it seemed rather redundant.

As I found out recently, it can be very useful. I’ve been trying to untangle the lapidicina group of Pardosa wolf Spiders in Texas. These are the largest of the Pardosa spiders around here, and they like rocks, especially limestone outcrops. Their common name is stone spiders because of it.

I’m not aware of any in Milam County, but there are some at  Granger Lake just next door. There are also some along  Brushy Creek in Williamson County and several places along the lake near Belton in Bell County. In total, there are four species in Texas, which are apparently found in limited areas that don’t necessarily overlap.

Here’s one found near Granger Lake. It’s looking right at us!

Here’s what happened. P. sierra was described by Banks in 1898 from specimens collected in Baja California. P. atromedia (California) and sura were described subsequently. In 1959, Barnes decided they were all the same species, P. sierra, which had an immense range in southwestern U.S. and in Mexico. This was based on similar morphology of genitalia.

Then, in 2010, Correa-Ramirez et al. looked at the genetic code of specimens  and concluded that they were indeed separate species, and that  atromedia was in California, sierra was in Baja California, and sura was everywhere else. Additional studies may eventually add to these ranges, but for us it’s very likely that Texas has sura and not sierra. The other species in Texas are lapidicina, mercurialis, and vadosa. They are difficult to tell apart and all appear to come in a variety of colors and patterns.