Tuesday, July 31, 2018

There's a Spider Running Up My Leg!

Observing Nature...Up Close and Personal

I am very fond of watching the natural world around me. As a general rule, this involves trying to find "them". I do not always welcome surprises....like what happened Saturday morning. Walking to my car, I ran face-first into a spider web. Not one of my favorite activities but it does happen. I have managed to convince myself that spiders are very clever and jump off onto something other than me when I crash into a web.

Holding that thought I went on my way. However, as I was riding in the car (as a passenger) I saw a spider running up my leg. By instinct I brushed it off, but it was still in the car. When we arrived at our location I saw it again and was able to brush it outside. I suspect to our mutual relief. I did notice it had an unusual pattern but was off on my errand and didn't look carefully. Of course when I got back to the car, it was long gone. In a quirk of fate, that afternoon as I was working in the yard, I saw another spider exactly like the one in the car. Eureka, it did have a very unique pattern, one I knew would make it easy to identify. A search for a spider with a yellow triangle on it's abdomen brought instant results. 

Photo Credit: James Pryor
Arrowhead spider, or Verrucosa arenata is species of orb-weaver spider (family Araneidae). It is widely distributed in the Western Hemisphere.  Arrowhead spiders create a new web every day, removing the old one after sunrise. A word to the wise as I traverse that path to my car in the future. Isn't it beautiful!

Copperhead Snake in the Grass

Picking cherry tomatoes in the front yard this morning, my eye caught a small copperhead snake right by my foot, slithering under the grass mulch around the tomato plants.  I knew there were other kinds of snakes that can look similar, but it had the pattern I knew from past encounters with copperheads. I tried to see it's head to see if it was a pit viper, but it was too quick for me. The head was under the grass but the tail was visible as it froze in place. I was fascinated and a little alarmed. It was very short ...maybe not more than 14 or 16 inches. They are beautiful and the pattern is very distinctive, great camouflage in dried leaves, not the grass.

Copperhead (much larger than the one I just saw)
I have a pronounced aversion to snakes. Every time I walk in the woods, I see tree roots in the path as snakes for the nano second it takes me to focus. Really anything coiled or undulating catches my eye. If it is a snake (which it is not 99.5% of the time) and I have determined it is not a poisonous snake, my normal curiosity is aroused and I get as close as I can to observe. I was absolutely fascinated to read recently that this reaction is hard wired into me...I'm not just a wimp!

In Rob Dunn's book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We are Today, he talks about our evolutionary gift of a fear of snakes, from our monkey ancestors. Snakes may have even played a role in the development of our color vision. The book is very informative and his humorous style makes for entertaining reading.

Wolf Spider in the Studio

Also today, as I am clearing out a room in my basement, I saw a very large wolf spider. It just sat there and I was able to cover it up with a plastic container, slip a piece of paper underneath and take it outside. In another environment I'd want to watch its very move. I think we would all be quite surprised at the estimates of the number of insects in our homes! Actually afore mentioned Rob Dunn was involved in a study of just that.  Fortunately most of our "house mates" are generally not as large as this spider and easy to ignore.

How are you experiencing the natural world, up close and personal?

What is Anim8Nature?

Anim8Nature is dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship by exploring science with art and encouraging careful observation of the natural world. Learn more about Anim8Nature.com on this blog and our website. I have assembled a team of experts to spark curiosity with animated documentaries and conduct workshops to help students and families explore science with art and outside as environmental stewards. Join us.

We are currently documenting the annual cycle of a small water garden in my back yard during the 10 years I have been observing and photographing the changes.

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