Not a Funnel Cake, a Funnel Spider Web

by Donna Lewis

Just before it rained the other day, I saw this very interesting spider web under a tree, wound up in a Turk’s Cap plant.

I was not about to get too close as it looked like something that if I were a small insect, I would enter and never come out again. I think they make horror movies about these kinds of things.

But I was also struck by how intricate and, yes, beautiful it was. How can a tiny insect have the mind to construct something like this? Another one of nature’s secrets.

I sent the photo to Master Naturalist Eric Neubauer, who we are fortunate to have as a member of our Chapter to identify what spider made this. He said it was either in the family of Agelenopsis or  Agelenidae Funnel Spider.

They look similar to a Wolf Spider.  But I am not going to get that close to ask it.

The lesson is as usual, look around at nature and you will see wonderful things.

Caught Off Guard, but Not Defeated

by Eric Neubauer

I didn’t have my usual spider accessories when I encountered this spider indoors, and the only thing I could find to use was a small glass jar. After getting the spider to run into the jar and taking it outside, I took some ventral photos followed by some dorsal photos after I released it. The lighting was harsh, but the images were adequate for identification. At the time I thought it was one of the darker Tigrosa
species because I knew it was something I hadn’t seen and was expecting to eventually find some in Gause. Tigrosa is a common genus, but I’m not very familiar with it because I rarely encounter it. I soon found out my ID was wrong but didn’t feel too bad since the most recent Tigrosa helluo observed at iNat looked just like mine. After looking at all the Tigrosa options, I found that all had a narrow carapace pale medial band, which ruled mine out. I thought it might be Trochosa, but the medial band wasn’t as strong between the posterior eyes as those I’d seen before. I checked Varacosa before returning to Trochosa. Looking at the Trochosa sepulchralis observations, about a quarter looked just like mine.

Trochosa sepulchralis

So how does my observation fit into the iNaturalist world? There are 78 observations of the species of which 48 are in Texas showing how much we love our wolf spiders. The range of Trochosa sepulchralis covers most of the US east of the Rockies except for the extreme northern parts.

Trochosa sepulchralis

There are probably significantly more observations at iNat that are unidentified or misidentified. I know for sure there is at least one under Tigrosa helluo. This was my first Trochosa and the first Trochosa sepulchralis observation for Milam County. Note that my ID hasn’t been seconded yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Bright Green Spider: Wear Goggles if You Get Close!

by Donna Lewis

So, while walking along our back fence, I see this brilliant green spider on a fence post.

All the other posts were taken by pairs of grasshoppers. Love is in the air.

Suna got to watch these differential grasshoppers show their love on her rocking chair.

I did not know what the spider was, which is why I got really close with my camera to take this photo.    After I sent the photo to my go-to specialists, Eric Neubauer and Linda Jo Conn, I learned that it was a Green Lynx Spider, common in our area.

I also learned that when a female is guarding her 600 green eggs, she can squirt some venom about one foot away!  Wow I won’t get so close again. It was beginner’s luck that I didn’t get venom in my face!

This spider is a hunter. It goes after prey, while some spiders weave their webs to catch their prey. It loves moths and bees and most insects.

Lately we have seen more spiders in our house, just not one of this kind. I know what you are thinking, does she kill them? I actually do try to catch and release. Sometimes I can’t, but I try. Everything has a purpose.

Wolf Spiders Are too Hard for Amateurs to Identify

by Eric Neubauer

Wolf spiders are too hard for amateurs to identify

I’ve heard that, and you may already believe it even though there is at least one species, Rabidosa rabida, that most people are familiar with. On bad days I even believe it. Wolf spiders come in many kinds and sizes, and their rapid movements out in the open often bring them to our attention. Rabidosa rabida appears to seek out commotions in daylight, and we’ve all been surprised by seeing a big one standing motionless nearby when we’ve been busy doing something. There’s a game I play. I set foot on a property and say, “Now where are the wolf spiders?” With a little practice, you can be a regular winner. So, people are constantly reminded that they can’t put a name to those dang wolf spiders.

The life cycle of a wolf spider is simple compared to a butterfly. There are eggs, spiderlings clinging to their mother, and then spiders which get bigger and bigger and almost unnoticeably change from juvenile to adult, and then they grow some more. Since they have exoskeletons they have to moult repeatedly as they grow. During each molt they have the ability to make physiological changes including re-growing lost legs. None of the changes are as dramatic as a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, but many subtle changes can occur during each molt. It’s that long period of gradual development that causes most of the identification difficulties. I figure you’d need at least five separate identification guides to cover Hogna antelucana at various times during its growth. Because I rarely encounter older spiders, I was unaware of a later change in Hogna antelucana when I did the presentation back in July. Thanks to seeing other people’s observations come in during July and August I’m aware of it now, and an addendum will be forthcoming. Think of the difficulty of writing a guide on wolf spiders. Each species would take a half dozen pages and be too complicated to make sense of unless very carefully presented. And what about regional and seasonal differences?

Wolf spider with spiderlings. Photo by SA Kendall.

I don’t want to scare anyone away from trying to identify wolf spiders. The truth is, if you take photos of multiple spiders in one place at one time you’ll find many as alike as peas in a pod. Given the same history, the appearance of spiders is remarkably similar. Get to know a population and watch it for a year and then you will be able to identify the next individual on sight regardless of their age or sex. Going to a new place and encountering the spiders there the first time is a greater challenge, but it may turn out there is less regional variation than people thought after developmental changes are taken into consideration. In the long run we’ll work out which characteristics are most reliable for identifying each species. Having iNaturalist and BugGuide is a great asset. I was able to virtually travel 4,000 miles looking for a particular species group along the way in less than a week and without leaving my house. Nevertheless, I still prefer to interact with them in real life.

Pardosa mercurialis with egg sac

The main image of the observation below was taken on Mustang Creek under the U.S. 79 bridge southeast of Taylor. I was specifically looking for it there and found just one. After the photo session she was released right where I found her and is probably covered in spiderlings as I write this. I’m trying to locate all accessible populations of these in eastern Williamson and Milam Counties. At this point I found them in three locations, plus a single individual roaming downtown Taylor a half mile from where it should have been. That’s all I could find until water levels in the creeks and rivers drop. They like rocky or pebbly areas with water on one side and low vegetation on the other. If anyone has an accessible area like that on their property, I’d appreciate a chance to visit.

Another view.

Sightings at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch

by Sue Ann Kendall

Becoming a Master Naturalist has truly changed my life for the better. One thing that’s enriched my life is using iNaturalist. I’ve learned so much about the world around me, in particular right where I live. Our property is north of Cameron and has woods, pastures, a creek, springs, and an arroyo. That means there’s lots to see! I thought I’d share some of the summer life from this year.

First off, I’ve learned to look down and look for anything on a leaf that doesn’t look like a leaf. However, this beetle wasn’t hard to spot. It’s teeny tiny, but was so shiny it caught my eye. I think I now have a favorite beetle, and have plenty here for it to eat!

A beautiful jewel

The Mottled Tortoise Beetle is a member of the Leaf Beetle family. It is found on morning glory flowers, leaves, and vines as well as milkweed plants. Their spiny, flat larvae look more like little dark centipedes and they eat these plants while they grow and develop into rounder, shiny adults. Though they may punch holes into the leaves of the plants, they rarely cause enough harm to damage or kill the plant unless it is young or a seedling. They are not considered an agricultural pest or threat.

This week, I’m supposed to have been looking for moths, for this year’s National Moth Week collection. However, I’ve only located two. One is bright and cheery, plus it was on my car, which made it easy to see, while the other is one of those common brown ones that will soon be legion if the chickens don’t eat more of the armyworm moth caterpillars. I spotted it, because it was something that didn’t look like a leaf, but was on one of our tomatoes (which got damaged thanks to herbicide drift from the cotton across the road, grr.)

I’m always on the lookout for things that are blooming, because one of my goals when I retire is to compare when I have uploaded flowers over different years to see if they change. That’s why I keep recording observations on the ranch, even though it doesn’t count for Master Naturalist hours unless it’s part of an approved project (so, the beetle doesn’t count, but the moths do). I’m just curious about my local ecosystem and don’t need awards to motivate me at this point!

Most of the flowers I’ve been finding are in the pink to purple family, except those snake apples. I just learned they can also be called globeberries. Huh.

Of course, there are lots and lots of insects, particularly the differential grasshoppers who are dominating every moment of my outdoor life. Chickens like them a lot, though. The spiders have been interesting this year, though, and I’ve seen some new ones. I’ll also share the deep black beetle and one of the snakes that has been eating the eggs my hens produce. They seem to have gotten smarter and stopped hanging around in the hen house, which makes them easier to find and dispose of.

So, what’s thriving over where you live? Have you seen any of these species? We love it when you share your experiences on our blog! Contact me at ecrmnpresident at gmail.