Saturday, August 23, 2008

Red and Black beauty - A "Cow Killer" wasp

Jarod with the Cow Killer

My nextdoor neighbor, Jarod, loves spiders and insects! This morning I heard the doorbell ring and there was Jarod standing there with an empty Gatorade bottle containing this "Cow Killer", a.k.a. Velvet Ant. He had caught her at his soccer game. I transferred her to a bug container and had to wait until she dried to get the close-up photo.

It seems like lately all I am posting is venomous critters! :) This 1-inch long insect looks like a beautiful ant, but it is actually a wingless female wasp. She has a wicked sting, thus the common name "Cow Killer". Her red and black coloration is a warning that she is venomous.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Brown Recluse!

I finally got a photo of a live Brown Recluse spider! She is much more photogenic than the 2 dead ones I have in a jar of isopropyl alcohol at school! Spiders have a tendency to curl their legs when they die. Jessica, a spider enthusiast from Knoxville, caught this spider in her apartment and kept her for me. Thank you, Jessica, you are brave!

It is easy to identify the Brown Recluse because of the distinctive "violin" pattern on the cephalothorax. The bite of this spider is dangerous because the venom is necrotic, causing death to the tissue around the site of the bite. Unlike the bite of a Black Widow which is extremely painful, the Brown Recluse's bite is sometimes not even felt, the victim may not know he or she has been bitten until the skin and muscle begins to turn color and die!

I will not keep this spider as long as I have Arachne, the Black Widow. This one will be donating her body to science very soon! I hate to kill her, but she is just too dangerous to have around the house.

***Update: On Aug. 23 my husband put some large black ants into the Brown Recluse's container. A couple of hours later I noticed her legs were curled up --- she was dead. I guess the ants killed her.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Alien" Moth, Skinny Spiders and Camouflaged caterpillars

I found some interesting creatures at school today, 1 in my room and 2 outside. The first was a couple of Looper caterpillars that had bitten off petals from the Black-eyed Susans and stuck them on their backs. There are 2 caterpillars in this photo. Can you see them? They are very well camouflaged!

Later I had to laugh when I saw this funny moth on the side of the school building! Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, this guy looked as though he had been created to be a cartoon character! :) Actually, it is a male Manto Tussock Moth! Check out those cool curved antennae!

I'm probably one of the only teachers in my school (perhaps the whole school system) that would get excited to find a pair of spiders in my classroom! I noticed a couple of Long-bodied Cellar spiders near my back door. They eat insects and even other spiders, so I just leave them alone. I had to put it in a Critter Cage to get a good photo, that why there is backwards Japanese writing in the picture! This is the male, he was quite a bit larger than the female.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cool caterpillar, Sexy Spiders, and a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" among the Aphids

This was an interesting day as far as strange critters is concerned. This morning when I went to get the newspaper out of the driveway, I noticed a small white fuzzy creature on a milkweed leaf. The leaf was also covered with small yellow aphids. I quickly ran in and grabbed my camera with the macro lens and the tripod. It was amazing to watch the lacewing larva magnified through the lens. It pulled a tuft of white fuzz off the back of the leaf with its pincer-like mouth, arched its head backward and put the fuzz on its back! What a great form of camouflage to look and probably smell like the leaf! Now that it was well hidden, it went hunting for a nice juicy aphid to have for breakfast. Check out the choppers on that larva! The white drop is sap from the milkweed leaf, I had to bend it to get the sunlight on the larva. Lacewing larva eating an Oleander Aphid
(click on photos to enlarge)

Later in the afternoon, Kenny and I went hiking at Haw Ridge. Just minutes after we got on the trail, I noticed some long white fuzz under a leaf. I turned the leaf over and found an amazing caterpillar, which I later learned was a Flannel Moth Caterpillar (Megalopyge crispa). It is related to stinging caterpillars, so I would not be surprised if it has a nasty surprise under all those long hairs.
Flannel Moth Caterpillar

Toward the end of the hike I was looking for spiders. Along the side of the trail I noticed a spider with way too many legs! Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was not one spider but two! I quickly put my camera on the tripod and zoomed in on the romantic couple! I was amazed at what I saw!
Male spiders have enlarged reproductive organs called pedipalps, they look like boxing gloves near the head. They put a drop of sperm into the pedipalps which are inserted into the female's epigynum (genital pore). The female spider was facing upward with her head near the back of the male's head. I was surprised to see that he used the enlarged pedipalps like boxing gloves as he rapidly beat them against the underside of her abdomen. She had a small black projection (the epigynum ) on her abdomen that the male would hit with the palps, possibly to get her into the "romantic mood". He would quickly open one of the palps to reveal the coiled yellow part which he used for mating. I have to be careful how I word this, I have to keep it "family friendly"!
Here is a photo of the spiders. It took about 40 shots to finally get this photo. It was a breezy day which is nice for hiking, but the wind can pose a real a challenge for macro photography!
Mating Spiders