Backyard beauty of a spider

Silver Argiope (orb weaver spider)

Silver Argiope (orb weaver spider)

This weekend I stumbled upon a terrific spider in my backyard.  It’s its web that caught my eye first, as it had a distinctive zig-zag pattern like this:

Illustration by Erin Hunter. www.baynature.org

Illustration by Erin Hunter. http://www.baynature.org

Turns out with a little sleuthing, I found out that it’s a Silver Argiope or Argiope argentata a type of orb weaver spider. 

According to a site on the UC Irvine website, it is common in Southern California in the Fall and those zig-zaggy features are called ”stabilimenta” in the orb web, asserting that they “probably … make it more visible to birds who might otherwise fly into it accidentally and destroy [the web].”  Perhaps it also creates a bright spot that would attract insects like moths.

On closer inspection, there were in fact TWO spiders on the web. One very big and one very small, so a female and male!!! Take a look at this fantastic photo.  It shows the two of them sharing the same web, one on either side.  I believe the male is gingerly courting the female … gingerly because it might be that the female eats the male after you-know-what like with black widow. 

Female & Male together on her web

Female & Male together on her web

Upon zooming into this photo, I noticed that indeed the male had enlarged pedipalps used in mating for transfer to the female. This feature is unique to spiders, according to Wikipedia. 

The following day, she was no where to be seen although he was there (not eaten – whew). Perhaps she was laying eggs – her final act just like Charlotte’s Web. 

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Resourceful Woodrat living in our shed

Dusky-footed Woodrat (Photo credit San Diego Natural History Museum)

Dusky-footed Woodrat (Photo credit San Diego Natural History Museum)

We have a Woodrat living in our shed. I know it’s a Woodrat because of the nest it’s making. Of all places he’s building it on our lawn mower.

According to the San Diego Natural History Museum, “the presence of Woodrats is usually obvious by the[ir] large houses built from sticks, twigs, cacti, horse and cow manure, and other bits of plant materials and man-made debris…” Here’s a sketch of one from the Hastings Natural History Reserve site.
Sketch from www.hastingsreserve.org[

Sample woodrat nest in the wild (photo credit www.stanford.edu/~merigan/rat2.html)

Sample Woodrat nest in the wild (photo credit http://www.stanford.edu)

Our Woodrat – let’s call him ‘Woody’ has made a very interesting nest using various items in our garden-shed. For example, I have these blue little flags that I use to mark out our sprinklers and/or special plants. I was storing them in the shed in a nice and tidy stack. Well Woody has methodically taken all the flags and placed them all over the lawn mower. He’s even using garden string, a roll of gardeners tape, and scrub brush to help decorate his new home. From the outside, he’s brought in bits of bark, leaves, twigs and placed those to around and on top of the mower. He’s a very resourceful rat, our Woody. Here’s picture of Woody’s home on the lawn mower and a picture of our shed:
lawn-mower-nest-sm1

shed

“Yuk – rats!” you say. Well these Woodrats are different than subway rats that eat garbage. This species is a part of the natural canyon ecosystem here in San Diego and is called the Dusky-footed Woodrat, or Neotoma fuscipes in Latin. Their nests serve as protection from predators and the elements, as well as for storing food. “They frequently carry small items in their mouths, including typical campsite trash, and much of this is added to their houses” according to the natural history museum. They are noctural. Nighttime is when they collect materials for their nest and forage for food. It’s also when they are preyed upon by top ‘o the food chain predators such as owls, bobcat, and coyotes. Here’s a cool Woodrat ecosystem diagram I found on Averno College’s website (source: http://www.depts.alverno.edu/nsmt/OtoEsamp.htm)
woodrat20map[

To close out this post, I found it interesting that the natural history museum notes that “rattlesnakes are known to share [Woodrat] nests.” Talk about strange bedfellows. Ironic, that we had a rattler living in our yard (see my October blog post) and now a woodrat, just not at the same time.

More info about Neotoma fuscipes and other Woodrats of the desert southwest can be found at www.sdnhm.org/fieldguide/mammals/neot-lep.html

Parcel Taff

 

I have a cat that loves boxes. It doesn’t matter what type of box – big, small, short, tall – Taff loves them all!  He especially likes this one box that my new ice cream maker came in.  He goes in and out of it all the time, using the flap-lid like a trap door spider waiting to burst out and pounce. Pounce mostly on the other cats, but sometimes me too. He even pounces at nothing … or perhaps his imaginary friends J  Taffy is a nutcase!  A lovely little nutcase!

 

While this sounds like a normal cat pass-time, recently Taff has gotten a bit neurotic about his boxes (yes plural, as we currently have six boxes out for him).  He’s started to bite them up into little pieces.  Here’s a clip of him doing it.

It’s kind of funny, actually.  He’s bitten into his favorite box so much now that it resembles Swiss cheese.  He’s also gone in-and-out, in-and-out of it so many times that it has basically collapsed on the floor. There just to be bitten apart some more … oh, and head-butted across the floor into the other boxes, kind of like bumper cars.

 

I guess him and all his boxes and little bits of cardboard box everywhere are a parcel tax for keeping him inside all the time.  It’s Parcel Taff.

(HUGE) Rattler in the planter!

Red rattle SIMILAR to the one outside my house!

Red rattle SIMILAR to the one outside my house!

Recently, on my way out to the trash bin I noticed something out of the ordinary on the sidewalk by the planter. It wasn’t entirely on the sidewalk nor in the planter. It was kinda part-way. “It” was a ruddy colored looking thing that looked a bit like a rock. Like the hundreds of rocks we have around the yard and the sort that are naturally in the nearby canyon by the millions.

Still … there was something different about this “rock”. Something I had to focus on and engage my brain to really see. What I saw was that this was a HUGE rattle snake and I had just walked 3 feet from it … in my slippers and robe … Aaahhhhhhhgggrrrrrr.

From what I could see, he was basically just a mound of snake … quite beautiful actually … under a rosemary bush under the dining room window. Not coiled, not rattling, not stretched out and moving. He was just a big mound of snake. The good news was that he wasn’t moving. I think he was asleep, as if he’d just fallen asleep on his way to bed, like a drunk. Beautiful or not, it was still a rattle snake that had to go! Had to go, yes, but not killed.

So after creating all kinds of drama for my hubby (and rightly so ), I spent the next hour+ combing the phone book and all the enviro-types in my address book looking for a snake catcher. What I was looking for was someone to capture him and then release him far, far away from the house. I finally got a hold of the local Park Ranger. He agreed to c’mon by and get the snake.

Upon arriving, Ranger Joel expressed his surprise and awe at this enormous snake and his beauty. From there he scoped out the canyon habitat just beyond the fence. He walked the complete perimeter of our property eye-balling good habitat for the big-guy.

This, I need to add, was not what I had in mind. Recall my specs: Far, far, away! Aaahhhhhhhgggrrrrrr. Once, however, Ranger Joel started to round him up, that idea quickly went away. He realized that this guy would probably come right back, especially if there was a food source. And there is – rabbits, mice and wood rats – in our yard. Even with snake fencing, a snake this size would surely scale it (pardon the pun) and be back in the yard.

Rounding up the snake was quick but nerve-racking. Once the snake was prodded to come out, he immediately started to rattle like mad and HE STARTED TO MOVE!!!! I mean fast. He came out from under the bush, rounded the fireplace cut-out, slithered along the sidewalk, went toward the Ranger, then away from him. Then Ranger Joel hooked him! All this in a matter of seconds. He used two tools – one had clampers so he could grip his neck and the other was a metal rod like a car antenna to lift the lower section of his body. He used two because if he’d just lifted this big guy by the neck he would have broken it for sure. Here are a few pictures taken by me and our neighbor.

See how huge this guy was, especially from the bending rod Ranger Joel used to lift him into the snake-bucket. WOW!!

Peering into the bucket I counted … twelve rattles! WOW – that means this guy was older than our house. However, the Ranger and I doubted he’d lived in our yard that long. Nope – he’d probably just come in within the last few weeks when the HOA replaced the subdivision’s fencing. I probably walked by this guy a couple of dozen times too, as that spot where I found him had a well-worn rub mark on the lower rosemary branches. He’d probably gone in and out of there hunting, eating, sleeping, and repeating as nature does. He was probably quite happy there, actually. Oh well … I hate to sound mean but, “not in my yard buddy!” Snakes and people don’t mix.

So, with lid in place and securely taped down, Ranger Joel and his assistant loaded snake-bucket into the back of his Park Ranger truck. Mr. snake was going bye-bye off to another canyon far, far away. Well, at least two miles and to another section of the canyon separated from our canyon by houses, fences, roads, dogs, drainage ditches, etc. He’d need a miracle, or the will of god to come back over here.

I think he’ll be happy there … it’s a nice canyon with lots of critters and other snakes and no people. Perfect!

Top floor cricket and bottom floor spider

Today I found two critters sharing our space: A cricket and a spider. They were both in the house at the same time but on different floors. The cricket was crawling up the bedroom wall upstairs and the spider was downstairs in the kitchen just passing by.

 

What I do with critters like this is catch and release them to the outside.  I’m doing them a favor. They are like a fish-out-of-water in the house. Nothing to eat, no one to mate with and a strong possibility of becoming a cat-toy … then lunch. Plus, I don’t have the patience, for example, for crickets chirping in my bedroom at night in a fruitless pursuit for a not-there partner.  SHUT UP!

 

Link to cricket site, complete with cricket sound!
http://www.vtaide.com/png/cricket.htm

 

Now, to catch these critters I have a special technique.  I get a jar and a piece of strong paper, like a magazine insert. I carefully place the jar over the insect on an entirely flat surface like the floor, wall, counter-top, carpet or rug.  It has to be flat to ensure that the little guy does not escape or get hurt in a fold or lip of some sort.  As this whole maneuver can shock them and cause them to run around very fast, it is important to “jar” them on this requisite flat surface.

 

I take the paper and wedge it under the jar taking special care not to lift it too much so they escape, while not trapping their legs or antennae. (See picture above)

 

Next I carefully lift the jar and the paper together and turn it right side up. This is the tricky part and the reason it is best to use a heavier bond paper that has some stiffness to it. 

 

I’ve been doing this for years now so the whole process is over in a flash.  If you’re going to try it yourself, I just suggest you be careful to keep that “seal” between the jar and paper so you don’t have any escapees, especially if you catch the sort of toxic critters which on occasion I do.  For example, I recently caught a black widow spider using this method. Incredibly this menacing creature was just walking around on our kitty condo apparatus. What was he doing there and how’d he get there?  In a flash, all the worst case scenarios you would think of when through my head.  What if the cats used that one as a cat toy? I shiver to think …

 

Anyway – I caught him/her using my method and released her over in an unoccupied part of the yard.  (no I am not crazy … I just don’t like to kill any insects other than ANTS!) BTW, black widows eat ants J

 

In closing today’s post I searched out on You Tube for similar methods for catching bugs.  Strangely no one has posted a method like mine. Sounds like a good homework assignment for me J  I did find this one though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6sEDTgz2pE

Great invention – if your aim is to just rid your place of the pests. Not appropriate for my catch-‘n-release program though.  Good for Australia I’d imagine, as a majority of their critters are highly venomous.  Watch though you don’t piss off an aggressive funnel web spider in the process. They’re nasty bastards!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_funnel-web_spider

Lizards – or parts thereof – in the haus!

So I came home from work the other day … groceries in hand … hungry kitties circling around my ankles…and dinner yet to fix… And something caught my eye. ANTS! Ants on the floor, in the kitchen … and in my life … again. Oh no!

What’s worse is that they were streaming toward some lizard tail segments there on my kitchen floor. That’s right lizard tail parts; evidence clearly there was or had been a lizard in the house that day. But how could that be? The house is locked up during the day. The cats don’t go outside for fear the coyotes will have them for lunch. So, how could this have happened? Better still, where was the lizard or rest of the lizard?

The cats were uninterested in anything other than their quest for their evening meal of Friskies, so I was getting no where asking them.

I looked for evidence of bits, pieces, splatters, scales, anything … and found only a smaller section, the long skinny part of the tail and a small smear or blood across the room by the window. No dead lizard. No live but injured lizard either.

Now, backing up a bit to the morning. Ironically I had an encounter with an aligator lizard in the garage just before I got in the car. I tried to shooe him out of the garage with my jacket but he ran further into the garage. As I had to go to work, I didn’t have time to catch and release him. It’d have to wait.

Here’s a picture of one I found on the web:

Alligator lizard

Alligator lizard

Also, here’s link to a guy’s flickr page called “The things I find in my garage…” Ah – a kindred spirit 🙂
http://flickr.com/photos/89093669@N00/2726213303

Now, fast forward back to the scene of kitchen carnage … perhaps that was the same lizard. Fast forward a day or so and my husband found the first lizard in the garage. He was hidding in a wood pile (the lizard, not my husband 🙂 ). I caught him and put it outside in the brush by the canyon. Guess what though … he had his whole tail. so, that wasn’t the kitchen lizard. Same species though.

Anyway, back to the unsolved mystery. Well, another day goes by and I actually wasn’t even thinking this little guy made it, considering I have three predators in the house that ‘hunt’ window-to-window lizards in the patio all day. But alas … there was some curious commotion over by the floor lamp on Saturday evening. Two kitties – Ramy and Taffy crouched by the base of the lamp with huge saucer-eyes. Sure enough when I lifted the lamp … there was Mr. short-tailed lizard!!! He was alive – yipee.

I scooped him up, put him in a box, warmed up with a lamp, gave him some water, found some miscellanous non-flying insectos around outside and set him up for the night to recoup before I set him free. I closed the door and let him alone. A few hours later I checked in on him and he was more alert and one of the insects was GONE! Yea – road to recovery.

Morning came and I released him over by where I released the other little guy just the day before. Hope they’ll be friends – they have some good stories to tell of how they survived that house …
(fade to Bates Mansion on the hill …)

PS Ants were taken care of through the usual cruel and unsual methods (fade tp Dr.Evil’s laugh)

House Captain’s log

Me - Haus Captain

Me - Haus Captain


Starship Enterprise-ish. This is an account of my house and its ecosystem. More than just me, my hubby and our three cats, there are other “animals” in our house. Other critters, creatures … other things living here and that’s fine by me. It’s a balanced ecosystem for the most part. Sometimes it gets out of balance though. Sometimes, certain animals come uninvited and create a brief trip to chaos-ville and then I need to bring out the big stick and manage the situation. Like when we get ants in the house. Yuk!  Spiders are okay but ants are a nightmare. I’ll post something in the coming days about that. First, I want to do a pillar post on this new blog of mine.

Haus is an ecosystem

Haus is an ecosystem

As I said, my house is an ecosystem.  It’s a harmonious place for the most part at least from what I can see. We are two human-oids and three cats. My cats, like most people’s pets are a “unit” unto themselves.  I will post about their antics, not ad nauseum but rather in terms of quandaries. Perhaps I can get your advice. I’d welcome that. 

Moving on: I also count a few resident spiders, moths, silverfish, assassin bugs, and some plant pests like gnats and mealy bugs on my orchids in the house-ecosystem. All these are animals in my view, as they are part of the Animal Kingdom not just inanimate objects. 

As this blog grows, I may even post about critters out of the house, as there are some really cool critters in my yard and I like cool critters. That’ll also give me a chance to post links to other websites, photos, or even You Tube videos.  Remind me: There’s a really cool one I saw of an attacking garden spider. I’ll post it here in the coming weeks.

So here we go … starting with introductions:

Taffy Jones

Taffy Jones


Ramy-cat

Ramy-cat


Gris-gris Guy [pronounced gre-gre-gee], Grieg for short

Grieg for short

Taf is the alpha male of the house, even though he’s the newest cat here. Back in November we got him from the shelter. From day-1, he walked right in like he owned the place. He’s kind of a bully, especially to the Grieg, who is an awfully shy and timid to cat to start. Ramy is a sweety middle cat who wants Taffy’s affection and who wants to chase the Grieg under the bed, or at least to have Taf do it. Oh the drama here in the the ecosystem. I’m not sure it’s in balance, but that’s where we stand at the moment.

Over and out. Until my next post 🙂

PS & BTW, I spelled house as ‘haus’ because that’s the way we pronounce it here in our ‘haus’. Although its the German spelling, we pronounce it like the Dutch do. However, spelling it their way, ‘huis’ would be hard, I think, for you to pronounce (in your head or outloud). Thus, house is haus is huis.

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