Try To Live With Polite Spiders


Several months ago a tiny spider appeared on the bathroom windowsill. I said hello. Odd as this sounds, Spring doesn’t officially arrive until a polite spider homesteads on my bathroom sill. It’s been that way every year of twenty one lived in this house. Suffice to say welcoming spring spider, keeping her polite existence to myself is problematic. Mine is not a family of arachnid sympathizers. I clean around her, know that when startled she retreats through a vent in the aluminum window frame and hope for the best. In two months she’s doubled in size. Twice as large, neither a threat or concern – polite spiders know their place.

Arachnophobia is real, I get it. Expecting others to embrace polite house spiders is a big ask. That said it’s important to understand how vital spiders are to the balance of nature. Their prime directive is to control insect populations be it aphid, fly, moth or mosquito. Everyone needs to relax, understand house spiders are polite and predictable without a lick of animosity toward the human race.

Why is it I embrace the annual appearance of polite bathroom spiders while my family feels obliged to eradicate them with insecticide, wads of tissue or unceremonious suction of a vacuum hose? All because house spiders are demonized as vile marauders!  Oh my goodness, they’re not malicious, it’s so disheartening. I’m not asking you to hug spiders, I’m asking for restraint. Share your home with spiders, they mean no harm and conduct themselves with polite propriety if left alone. Sigh.

 

Swamp Rabbit


I’m rather fond of rabbits. Not in a daily cabinet dusting of rabbit knick-knack way. Truth being, the only rabbit representation in my home is a watercolour painted by my mother decades ago. That said, rabbits are my animal, rabbit appears in my email address and a close friend calls me Ms. Rabbit. The eve of Easter weekend strikes me as an appropriate time to ponder Swamp Rabbits, in particular, the Jimmy Carter rabbit incident of 1979.

Swamp Rabbits, largest member of the cottontail genus weigh 3-6 pounds with overall length of 16-22 inches. Found along the Gulf Coast and south-central region of the United States, true to their moniker they favour swampy lowlands, floodplains and riverbanks. Peculiar to this cottontail is a waterproof fur coat and remarkable ability to swim. When threatened they take to water, eluding predators by diving under roots or hunkering down beneath overhangs.

On April 20, 1979 President Jimmy Carter was fishing alone near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter said a rabbit being chased by hounds “jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle”. Despite this photograph taken by Carter’s onshore detail, White House staffers didn’t believe him, “rabbits can’t swim”. Ten days later AP correspondent Brooks Jackson’s account appeared in numerous publications, including front page of the Washington Post titled “Bunny Goes Bugs: Rabbit Attacks President”. A cartoon parody of Jaws, titled Paws appeared in the Post. All without the photo above which wasn’t made public until mid 80’s by the Reagan administration.

See the source image

Image from the Carter Library

A 1986 book by Jody Powell titled The Other Side of the Story included this account –

“Upon closer inspection, the animal turned out to be a rabbit. Not one of your cutesy, Easter-bunny-type rabbits, but one of those big splay-footed things that we called swamp rabbits when I was growing up.

The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk. The President confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind. What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the Presidential boat”. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter_rabbit_incident

Happy Easter.

Apex


If apex means “top”, the world’s apex predator might just be a tiny spider. Meet Euophrys Omnisuperstes, ( Latin for “standing above everything” ) the Himalayan Jumping Spider,  highest known permanent resident life form on Earth. This quarter inch long, eight eyed, claw footed jumping spider capable of leaping distances 50 times its body length, thrives at elevations of 22,000 feet above sea level. Himalayan Jumping Spiders inhabit a realm so improbable, their only food source is insects carried by the wind.

Meet the Spider that Lives On Top of the World: the Himalayan Jumping Spider

For perspective, Mt. Everest south base camp in Nepal sits at 17,598 feet. At this elevation oxygen levels are 50% that of sea level. Worlds above the tree line, far beyond the domain of Snow Leopards, high above clusters of Nepalese Snub Nose Monkeys https://www.newscientist.com/article/2101954-secrets-of-how-primates-can-live-at-extreme-altitude-revealed/ whose only sustenance is lichen or rare thermal pool prisoners of high altitude hot springs, the Bailey’s snake https://reptiles.fandom.com/wiki/Thermophis_baileyi – tiny eight eyed jumping spiders wait for lunch to blow in on the wind. Why spider, why?

Make no mistake, spiders rule. Sure cockroaches survive underwater for half an hour, monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles to a miniscule patch of Mexican forest, but it’s the spider who stands above everything.

Twilight


This evening, gloriously bruised skies created a twilight ponder. Twilight struck with realization most of us take her mesmerizing palette for granted. Far from a cosmic constant, twilight requires atmosphere to scatter rays of light in advance and conclusion of a visible Sun above the horizon.

Civil twilight falls when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning this is known as dawn, in the evening, dusk. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities.


Nautical twilight begins when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. At the beginning or end of nautical twilight, under good atmospheric conditions and in the absence of other illumination, general outlines of ground objects may be distinguishable, but detailed outdoor operations are not possible, and the horizon is indistinct.


Astronomical twilight defines a Sun 18 degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening the Sun does not contribute to sky illumination; for a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible.

Civil, nautical, astronomical, three clearly defined twilights that forgot to mention – twilight is also a colour, emotion and source of cosmic wonder unique to our planet.

 

“Bee”hemoth Wallace Lives


In January 2019 natural history photographer Clay Bolt captured images of Wallace’s Giant Bee. Considered one of the 25 “most wanted lost” species by Global Wildlife Conservation’s Search for Lost Species initiative, Wallace’s Giant Bee hadn’t been seen in 38 years. Thirty eight years is a long time to miss Wallace’s 6 cm wingspan, science considered the species extinct. Bolt said –

“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this ‘flying bulldog’ of an insect that we weren’t sure existed anymore.

To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible.”

Discovered in 1858 on the Indonesian island of Bacan by British entomologist and  namesake Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), the last sighting of Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto) occurred in 1981 when American entomologist Adam C. Messer documented six nests in Indonesia. Two specimens found in February and September of 2018 sold on eBay without a twinge of lost species conscience. Clay Bolt’s capture, imaging and release of a single female giant bee affirm the tenacity of waning species.

Elusive Wallace behemoths build nests inside active tree dwelling termite colonies. With  impressive jaws, females collect and spit out balls of tree resin, forming protective compartments within termite domain. Giant bees depend on low lying forests for resin and termite colonies. Little as we know about resin ball spitting tree dwelling termite colony squatter Indonesian giant bees, science begs us to realize how remarkable it is to photograph one.

 

See the source image

Wallace’s giant bee dwarfs the common honey bee in size. Image © Clay Bolt/claybolt.com.

https://earthsky.org/earth/found-worlds-biggest-bee-wallaces-giant-bee?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=7db7df99b0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-7db7df99b0-393970565

 

Hey Zebra, Why Those Stripes?


By definition science strives to provide answers arrived at by systematic analysis of nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe. Since the dawn of biological science, mystery of Zebra stripes have confounded science. Enter Tim Caro of University of California at Davis.

Tim Caro visited Hill Livery in England, a stable that keeps zebra alongside horses. Keen observation of zebra, horses and horses cloaked in zebra stripes revealed a simple explanation of why zebras are stripped – stripes confound hoards of biting flies. Apparently optics matter in the horsefly world. Swarms of horseflies hover without discrimination above horse and zebra, but stripes screw with horsefly minds, they can’t land on a striped hide.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/02/why-do-zebras-have-stripes-flies/583114/

229 Species


What do 120 wasps, 34 sea slugs, 28 ants, 19 fish, 7 flowering plants, 7 spiders, 4 eels, 3 sharks, 2 water bears, 1 frog, 1 snake, 1 seahorse, 1 moss, and 1 liverwort plant have in common? All reside on a list of 229 new species identified in 2018 by the California Academy of Science.

Shannon Bennett, Academy chief of science said –

Biodiversity scientists estimate that less than 10 percent of species on Earth have been discovered. Academy scientists tirelessly explore near and far, from the familiar forests in our backyards to remote locations as deep as 500 feet beneath the ocean surface. Each species discovery may hold the key to groundbreaking innovations in science, technology, or society and helps us better understand the diversity of life that makes up thriving ecosystems. These new discoveries also highlight the critical role we play as stewards of our one, precious planet.”

The “Japan pig” seahorse is the size of a jelly bean. Cryptic in coloration, the new species blends perfectly into the algae-covered reefs of southeastern Japan where it clings tightly via tail to soft corals, feeding on plankton passersby. It sports a pair of wing-like protrusions on its neck, but unlike the half dozen other pygmy seahorses in the world, the Japan pig has just one pair rather than two. The function of these wing-like structures remains a mystery. Image via Calacademy.

Spiders with the fastest spin on Earth! Spiders from the Selenopidae family were recently discovered to have the fastest leg-driven turn of any animal on the planet. This year, 3 new species join the fast-spinning group, including one from Egypt. This species was originally collected in the 1800s but only recently recognized as new to science when a team of sicnetists discovered it deep in the collection of the Oxford Museum. Image via Calacademy.

Along the Samana Norte River in the Colombian Andes, where canyon walls angle so steeply to the water that humans rarely frequent the region, a flowering plant produces sky-blue berries each year. This new-to-science species thrives near fast-moving rivers that experience frequent flooding. How the plant is pollinated and its fruit dispersed remains a mystery, but the discoverers suspect the mature berry, which is spongy, might drop into the water, float downriver, and lodge into a new rocky crevice to sprout a new plant. The plant is already endangered given its small, fragmented range. A proposed hydroelectric dam also threatens to flood the region and fully submerge one of the few localities where this species grows. Image via Calacademy/

https://earthsky.org/earth/new-species-2018?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=69ba9c94d7-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-69ba9c94d7-393970565

Spider Beach


On the morning of September 19, 300 meters of shoreline in Aitoliko, Greece woke to a gossamer siege of Tetragnatha spider web. Commonly called stretch spiders for their elongated bodies, over 300 species of harmless Tetragnatha inhabit our world. Partial to low vegetation at waters edge, stretch spiders thrive on mosquitoes and water born insects. Every few years a perfect storm of warm moist weather and mosquito bloom spark a stretch spider orgy. But for carefree visual grandstanding, arachnid party-goers mating with wild abandon while gorging on mosquitoes would remain nature’s secret.

https://greece.greekreporter.com/2018/09/18/massive-spider-web-covers-an-entire-beach-in-greece-photos/

Plants and palm trees covered in a veil of spider webs

Plants and palm trees covered in a veil of spider webs

Plants covered in a veil of spider webs

 

Image result for tetragnatha spiders

Tetragnatha Spider

Pondering Cetacean Menopause


Of all living things in all the world only 5 species experience menopause – Humans, beluga whales, narwhal, killer whales and short finned pilot whales. Who knew the hot flash clubhouse restricted entry to all but women and a smattering of cetaceans?

http://earthsky.org/earth/beluga-whales-narwhals-go-through-menopause?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=973760ff5a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-973760ff5a-393970565

Sam Ellis of the University of Exeter, lead author of a study published August 27, 2018 in the journal Scientific Reports wrote –

For menopause to make sense in evolutionary terms, a species needs both a reason to stop reproducing and a reason to live on afterwards.

In killer whales, the reason to stop comes because both male and female offspring stay with their mothers for life – so as a female ages, her group contains more and more of her children and grandchildren.

This increasing relatedness means that, if she keeps having young, they compete with her own direct descendants for resources such as food.

The reason to continue living is that older females are of great benefit to their offspring and grand-offspring. For example, their knowledge of where to find food helps groups survive.

Prior to publication 3 menopausal species were known to science, Ellis made it 5 by adding belugas and narwhal. Humans and 4 whale species, period.

 

Ponder Degrees Of Acuity


New research by Eleanor Caves at Duke University suggests most species view the world in less detail than us Comparison of visual acuity in 600 species of animals, birds, fish and insects conclude humans see fine detail elusive to most species. Based on spacing and density of light sensing structure in eye anatomy, the study measured acuity in terms of cycles per degree, translation – how many pairs of black and white parallel lines a species can discern within one degree of the field of vision before they turn into a smear of gray.

Average human eyes resolve 60 black/white cycles per degree of acuity. Anyone with less than 10 cycles per degree of acuity is legally blind. Most insects can’t see more than one degree of acuity. Fish and birds hover around half the visual acuity of humans. (One exception birds of prey – Australian web tailed eagles boast 140 cycles per degree )) Cats and dogs perceive 7 times less visual detail, slightly more than goldfish, significantly more than rodents.

Evolutionary perfection compensates lack of visual acuity with species specific tweaks of survival fancy. Sight as we know it is not the measure of life on Earth.

 

Image result for kitchen as seen by different animals

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/humans-see-world-100-times-more-detail-mice-fruit-flies-180969240/

 

The image on the left shows the wings of a map butterfly as they might look to a jay looking for a snack, and on the right, to another member of its kind, such as a rival or potential mate. Image courtesy of Eleanor Caves

The image on the left shows the wings of a map butterfly as they might look to a jay looking for a snack, and on the right, to another member of its kind, such as a rival or potential mate. Image courtesy of Eleanor Caves

Image result for eleanor caves acuity

A spider web as seen in bird vision (left), and fly vision (right). The zigzags on the spider’s web send a secret message to birds that their insect prey can’t see, even from less than a foot away. Image via Eleanor Caves.