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.

Beautiful Arachnid Mystery

by Sue Ann Kendall

Yesterday morning, it was very foggy at my house. As usual, I stopped to enjoy the droplets of water in the grass and hanging on the chicken wire at the henhouse. On my way back from feeding the chickens, I happened to glance at the steps to the RV that’s parked next to our garage. I was entranced by the jewel-like effect the dew had on the spider webs that are usually just busy trapping flies and other insects.

Arachnid artistry

Yes, spiderwebs have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean one can’t admire their construction and strength. That water had to be heavy, but the webs held up. There was also a light breeze, and I wish I’d thought to take video of the webs as they danced around, still holding on to most of their water droplets.

I didn’t see any evidence of spiders in any of the webs I saw, including ones around the grounds near my house. They were probably avoiding their webs until it dried off a bit.

You can see how dewy it was in the background grass

I figured most of the webs I saw were woven by an orbweaver, judging from their shape. I know that the yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) are mostly gone, so I ruled them out. But I’ve seen a couple of different orbweavers around this fall and I’m not sure which ones they are, because I haven’t gotten any confirmation from iNaturalist reviewers (follow the link to view and confirm or deny my guesses!). Most appear to have been Western spotted orbweavers (Neoscona oaxacensis) or tuft-legged orbweavers (Mangora placida).

The center of this one is rather wonky but does the job.

This morning was still damp, but not as foggy, so the webs were back to being almost invisible, but hey, I spotted a brown lump in one of the webs. I found her! The webs by the RV seem to be made by yet another orb weaving friend, the furrow orbweaver (Larinioides cornutus), which I have seen before in Milam County. The pattern is quite different from the others I’d been seeing this summer, so I’m fairly confident, even though no one has confirmed the observation yet (I just put it up a couple of hours ago).

I was happy to be able to know to whom I owed the debt of gratitude for the spectacle of web adornment I got to enjoy yesterday.

I do think maybe one or two of the webs were made by different spiders, especially the one by the front gate, which was made by an old spidey buddy of mine, who, judging by her coloration, is probably the Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera). These webs aren’t quite as neat and tidy as the ones by the RV.

Well, regardless of whether my identifications are right or not, I’ve had fun with the orbweavers in my vicinity, and hope you enjoyed learning a little more about them. Below are some more of my photos of these cool arachnids and their webs.

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.