More than birds

Though there’s hushed talk in the halls of meteorology about possible snow flurries early next week, right now we have cool nights and warm days.

Even subfreezing temperatures last week failed to halt the march of the arthropods.  Yet their prevalence in warm afternoons and their scampering about in drops of sunlight fail to hide the sense of strident pearl clutching, worrisome critters knowing each freeze brings them closer to the end.

A female spotted orbweaver (a.k.a. cross spider or redfemured spotted orbweaver; Neoscona domiciliorum) hanging in the middle of her web (2009_11_28_042667)

The herd is thinning.  Each drop to or below freezing sees to that.  Nevertheless, one need only look carefully to see how much the insect and arachnid communities continue to thrive even now, even in December as we approach winter’s official start.

Texas leafcutter ants (a.k.a. Texas leafcutting ant, town ant, cut ant, parasol ant, fungus ant or night ant; Atta texana) (2009_12_13_044586)

And being a La Niña year, a warmer and drier winter could well allow many to survive right through the season into next spring.  Assuming, of course, that “warmer and drier” isn’t occasionally pummeled by “colder and wetter” brought on by the Snow Miser’s muscle, such as a polar vortex, the McFarland signature or an unexpected progressive pattern.

A brown morph female short-winged green grasshopper (Dichromorpha viridis) sitting on a dead leaf (2009_11_21_040808)

So while it lasts, it doesn’t hurt to watch for the bounty nature offers this time of year that normally would be all but missing.  The observant can find more in winter than birds and brown landscapes.

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Photos:

  1. Female spotted orbweaver (a.k.a. cross spider or redfemured spotted orbweaver; Neoscona domiciliorum)
  2. Texas leafcutter ants (a.k.a. Texas leafcutting ant, town ant, cut ant, parasol ant, fungus ant or night ant; Atta texana)
  3. Female short-winged green grasshopper (Dichromorpha viridis); brown morph

12 thoughts on “More than birds”

  1. In Minnesota, we’ve had ice on the ground since mid-November. Nonetheless, my husband spotted a spider crawling across the snowy ruts of a country road last weekend. It was odd but somehow heartening.

    1. The spider on snow is very cool, Stephanie! A friend of mine from Canada had a similar discovery last year with two arachnid species. It was the first we’d heard of or seen about spiders being active on and in the snow. Very insightful!

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    1. Just natural lighting on the spider, Ted. The sun was behind her and the web, so I used a neutral density filter and a polarizing filter plus extended exposure time. I thought it turned out nicely, though I admit I have a lot to learn about mixing filters with settings to get the result I want. And thanks on the grasshopper! She was very cooperative. I almost missed her because she matched the dead leaf so well.

  3. I was just in the back yard today, and noticed a good-sized spider crawling along the Bald Cypress leaf litter. I was able to get it to crawl on my hand so that I could take a closer look – that was so fun! Of course I could not find the spider again, minutes later, after I had gone inside to get my camera. I agree, still plenty to see outside!

    1. I adore you, Amber! Letting a spider crawl on you is one thing, but enticing it to crawl on you is something else entirely. Most people wouldn’t think of such a thing. And I’ve had friends who totally freaked out when I’ve done it. You’re a girl after my own heart.

      1. Awwww. Maybe we can sit on the forest floor together sometime and marvel at the bazillion lives marching to and fro. Somehow it seems like an honor to have a tiny life march across your hand for even a small part of its journey.

  4. Jason, your posts are back more beautiful and insightful than ever. Bravo.

    That grasshopper is a triumph, an artwork perfectly fashioned out of a material unknown to man. You could look at the heated imaginings of CGI designers of science fiction film aliens for a lifetime, and yet find nothing as strange, perfect and mind-blowingly gorgeous as this little creature. I love the fact that the casing of her ‘shoulder’ (I’m not sure whether grasshoppers have shoulders but you’ll know what I mean) is concave, a detail captured by your skill behind the camera. Beautiful. Illuminating.

    1. You’re too generous, Clive. Thank you! The extent of me being outside these past months has consisted of sitting on the patio, and even that happens rarely–only on really good days. But I know my world and I have plenty of photos to draw from (excessive numbers, in point of fact!), so I have lots of material to work with.

      The grasshopper was the first brown morph I’d seen of that species. All the others have fit the “green grasshopper” common name. She was delightfully calm and unworried when I sat the camera in the grass near her so I could try for a few pictures. She just went on with her grooming. And that shoulder casing you refer to is called a pronotum. Like you, this was the first time I’d noticed the lateral areas are concave on this species. Time to review my photos to see if I’ve missed that on others…

  5. Here in the Pennsylvania Piedmont, it’s been going down below freezing every night for a week now. On Wednesday evening, with the temperature hovering around freezing, I had the light on in a room, which attracted a moth that fluttered around outside for a minute or so. I couldn’t believe it.

    I completely agree with Clive’s comment, too, but what impressed me most was the “camouflaged” eyes.

    It’s really great to have you back.

    1. Thank you, Scott! I appreciate the sentiment. The last few weeks have been surprisingly good for me. I can only hope that continues as I still have a long way to go. (And in honesty, I’m still being told “it’ll get worse before it gets better,” a sentiment I’ve tired of just like “only time will tell.”)

      Yes, the camouflaged eyes struck me as well. I always enjoy seeing that. There are other grasshopper photos in my collection that show the same thing. Time to hunt them down, methinks.

      Your moth tale reminds me of a time last winter as I walked around a local nature rreserve. The temperature hovered below freezing despite the clear sky and bright sunshine. From across a frozen pond I noticed something flitting toward me. It was a butterfly! It flew across the pond and lighted upon a lone dandelion right in front of me. I was shivering from the penetrating chill yet felt warmed by–and in awe of–this beautiful sulphur who was not only braving the below-freezing morning, but who seemed to be thriving in it. Nature always has another surprise up her sleeve!

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