Spider Bonanza

by Eric Neubauer

If you’ve searched Texas spiders on iNaturalist lately, you’ll probably found a tremendous increase in species. This is largely due to Justin Williams (jgw_atx) in Austin, who has done a lot of work on it lately. I searched Lycosidae (wolf spiders) yesterday and there were 402 species.

I’m sharing this information in the blog, since it makes iNat a lot more useful for spider identification in Texas. This kind of community science is what makes us Master Naturalists happy, and shows how much our own work can contribute to the knowledge of the natural world.

Here are a few pictures from Justin. Click on them to see them full size. They are gorgeous. They have Creative Commons copyright.

By the way, I also got a new and interesting spider observation! This is the first time Zora pumila has been observed in Texas, according to Justin Williams. The discussion on my observation is quite interesting.

Zora pumila observed by Eric Neubauer on January 12, 2021

Flying Spiders and Other Arachnid Tales

by Eric Neubauer

Flying Spiders

A while back a friend directed me to an article suggesting that spiders use the electrical gradient in the atmosphere to become airborne. When they produce silk, it has a charge and is attracted upward. Enough silk, and they’re up and away. So, the thing that causes lightning can also be used by spiders to fly.

Sometimes the webs get caught on fencing. Image by @Donatellaloiphoto via Twenty20

After I read the article, I’ve wanted to see a flying spider. Yesterday, I was lucky and saw one go by at about 5 mph and 6 feet above the ground. I saw the spider, one of my guests saw the silk thread it was suspended by. Unfortunately it went by too quickly for either of us to  see what was at the other end of the thread.

Whether it is pure instinct or involves some thought, the spider is purposefully flying. By dropping down on the thread, the spider can land at will. I have seen what I take to be silken spider balloons lying on plants.

I’ve also wondered how those silken threads that span the tall grass on either side of the driveway got there. It would be tedious for the spider to go down, across, and up while risking the thread getting entangled along the way. They probably simply fly it across. I’ll be looking for more flying spiders.

Additional information from Sue Ann

I’m busting in on Eric’s article, because this is also one of my interests. I found on Wikipedia that this is called ballooning. Apparently lots of spiders and some other organisms do this, and yes, it’s electrical!

I’ve also read that the wolf spiderlings are blown out of their nests on these little parachutes of silk, which is how they disperse. Here’s a close-up I found. At some times of the year at our ranch, they are everywhere. I can remember getting covered by the sailing webs while driving in our utility vehicle.

From Sue Ann: this is a photo we have framed and hung on the wall. Our dog, Penney, was running through the field at sunset during the time all the spider babies are flying off. The sun is reflecting off the webs.

Are spiders disgusted by humans?

As the season winds down and the avian predators clean up the last of the grasshoppers, the mating season of Eastern Harvestmen (and women) is in full swing. Perhaps because of this they seem to be very curious.

Have you ever seen a daddy longlegs this close up? Wow! Photo by Eric.

Twice I’ve had them come to investigate while I was fussing around with something. Rabid Wolf Spiders also do this, but I figured in their case they were hoping for a meal like the swallows that appear when you’re out on a lawn tractor.

The funny thing was when I stuck my finger out to see what the Harvestmen would do with it, they turned tail and ran away immediately upon contact. It seemed as if they had the same gut reaction that some people have when they see a spider. It also suggests they have really poor eyesight and are probably as comfortable in total darkness as they are in light.

This is apparently a harvestman and a harvestwoman. (ha ha)

I later had another encounter with a harvestman. I kept my finger still as it approached. As soon as its leading foot touched me, it turned and ran. Primatephobia at its  best!

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.

Don’t Bite My Head Off

by Donna Lewis

Earlier this week, I happened to be checking my Martin House poles when I thought I saw something in the netting  around the poles.  I looked closer and there was a female Mantid (Praying Mantis) who had gotten tangled in the netting.

It took me an hour to get her out unharmed.  As soon as she was free she flew onto my arm and proceeded to climb up till she was on my shoulder.  She looked at me with her triangular shaped head and turned her head back and forth.  Kinda neat and creepy at the same time.  I guess we were bonding…

Ms. Mantid

Mantids are a sit-and-wait predator. The females are larger than the males. It is rumored that sometimes if a second male comes near her during mating, well, she just eats the first guy by biting his head off. Maybe that’s where that saying comes from?

They mostly eat other insects or small lizards. They do call to attract a mate, but otherwise are silent. 

She was interesting to say the least, and I guess she was thanking me for saving her, because when she finally flew down to the grass, she started following me.

I finally out-distanced her and everyone went home.

This is a bonus photo of a green lynx spider Donna saw. It’s messing with a butterfly.

Nature is everywhere.  You just have to look.

Nature around the Johnson House

by Catherine Johnson and Sue Ann Kendall

Today, Cathy is sharing some of the wildlife she’s found around her home outside of Rockdale. That moth is amazing, isn’t it? We hope you enjoy this photo essay!

From top left, clockwise: Gulf Coast Toad and toad house, black witch moth (I think), wolf spider, milk snails, leopard frog.