Texas, Where Almost Everything Bites

Today I have a hodgepodge of stuff to share, but first I want to talk about what’s lurking around the ranch these days. That would be things that bite, and things that jump. Yesterday, I went to sit down on one of the front-porch rocking chairs, when I saw something on the seat.

A member of the widow spider family.

I am very glad she was pre-dead, and that I saw her before I sat. Certainly it confirms my habit of checking for creatures before plopping down anywhere around the Hermits’ Rest! I’m not sure what kind of widow spider she was, but I don’t want any of them biting me. These are the main reason I continue to support having pest control come around the house.

The second reason is scorpions, which I haven’t seen any of, but Lee and Kathleen have killed a few. I love them out in the woods, but not in the house. And I love the spiders, but not ones that could really mess with my health.

I’ve apparently become allergic to mosquito bites, and they make huge welts, so I could do without those right now, too. And biting flies! Argh. There are black flies around here, and horse flies (thankfully not around ME), and deer flies. Whatever. One of them bit me on my FACE this morning. That could have to do with how much poop we have at the ranch

Nonetheless, I am heartily enjoying discussing different kinds of flies and grasshoppers and stuff with Eric in our Master Naturalist class. He not only has good eye for finding them, but he has a good camera, and the patience to work hard to identify them.

Eric wrote me an email today about the coolest thing he saw (a “mystical experience,” in his words), which was he was trying to photograph a large grasshopper:

It jumped off the path into the high grass and when it landed it appeared to turn into at least a dozen tiny projectiles which flew off in all directions like a firework. A closer look uncovered a great concentration of grasshopper nymphs in the area.

Eric N., email 6/6/2020

Of course, he didn’t get a picture, but WOW, what an image!

My grasshopper experience this morning was also something you couldn’t photograph. I was walking back from horse riding (it went well), noticing that it’s definitely grasshopper season. Then I noticed the sound. As I walked, I was disturbing dozens and dozens of them (small ones, since they aren’t adult yet), and my walk seemed to have a rhythm section accompanying it. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

I k now a lot of people don’t like grasshoppers (like my sister), and I admit they are annoying in the summers when there are hundreds pelting me as I drive the utility vehicle. At least they don’t bite often or hard. But they are so varied and interesting. I have an AWFUL time photographing them, so I think I’m going to get a good butterfly net soon, so I can get some to hold still.

What Doesn’t Bite?

Roaches. Secretly, I have never been fond of roaches, due to childhood trauma, but I am doing better since I started doing iNaturalist. I recently even found one I thought was interesting to look at. It also lived outdoors, where it should.

Fairly attractive pale-bordered field cockroach

And non-venomous snakes don’t bite humans, often anyway. So, I was sad to see this one in the road this morning. Rat snakes are my buddies as long as they aren’t eating my hens’ eggs.

Poor snakey got hit by a car.

Okay, time to go see what’s outside that will hurt in some other way…

Creepy? Cute? Pretty?

It’s prime time for observing flowers and insects right now. I thought I’d share a couple of the things I’ve been observing, and give an update on my cactus that I shared a photo of a couple of days ago.

Insect of the Month

I’d say this is my favorite insect observation this month. Look at that big, green head! It’s a compost fly, and quite tiny. It was calm enough sitting on my hand that I could get a couple of nice images of it.

Not only am I cute, I’m helpful.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of compost flies before. It turns out they are a type of soldier fly.

Solider Flies are brilliant mimics of wasps and bees, but they do not sting and are so tiny, they may be difficult to find.

BugIdentification.org

It turns out these are insect Good Citizens, too! The bug identification site continues: “This species of Soldier Fly can be found in woods, gardens, and parks, with populations of adults hovering or standing over rotting plant matter. They are very small in size. These Solider Flies are not pests and do not seem interested in humans or their buildings like House Flies. They have been seen on compost heaps, piles of grass clippings, and other decomposing vegetation. Females lay fertilized eggs on the plant matter, so they are also called Compost Flies. Maggots are also small and tan in color with ten segments to their worm-like bodies. The Solider Fly maggots eat the compost and their presence may deter other types of pesky flies from inhabiting the same area. Adults are believed to drink flower nectar.”

This sounds like an insect I’d like to see more of at the Hermits’ Rest. What a little helper!


Continue reading “Creepy? Cute? Pretty?”

Spiders. I Like Them, Too.

garden_spider
This garden spider, and her eggs, live at the Rattlesnake House. She’s a big one.

Some of my friends really hate spiders. Recently there was a pretty big one near the tack room, and my friend, Sara, and I had completely opposite reactions. As I was reaching for my phone to take its picture, Sara swooped in and smashed it to smithereens. We both get a good laugh about that, now, and she’s promised to let me get a photo next time.

I’ve never hated spiders, though I will admit that during the first year we lived here, the number of webs that showed up under our porch got to be pretty creepy. That’s all stopped now. Whew.

phidippus texanus
This guy, Phidippus texanus, lives on my front porch. What a pretty design is on the abdomen! And you can see the cool eyes.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get pictures of more of the insects and arachnids around the ranch, so I’ve been watching the spiders more closely. I love seeing webs in the dew, finding out what they catch, and seeing the wide variety we have here. They range from the big ole garden spiders you see above to some so tiny I can’t get a picture of them that doesn’t look like a blob (I will spare you those photos).

arm
That white spot is Lee’s reminder of his visit from a brown recluse.

Aren’t some spiders dangerous?

Why yes, they are. As a matter of fact, Lee got bitten by a brown recluse once, at his cushy desk job! That thing took forever to heal, and he still has a pretty good scar. And I have very strong memories of the black widow scar on my paternal grandmother’s leg.

I do know what those guys look like. But, the way brown recluses hide in dark places concerns me. I always shake out my shoes when I put them on.

furrow_orbweaver
The shadows make this furrow orbweaver look way scarier than she really is.

But as for the rest of them…

Yep, I like spiders. We always enjoyed the ones we called “banana spiders” that built big webs and stayed in them for months and months. Those were actually  Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia), the same type of garden spider pictured above, not the scary banana spider that comes in with bananas.

And the variety astounds me. One of the things I hope to learn more about in the coming months are the habits of the spiders who live here. At least now I know what some of them are!