Tuesday, March 10, 2015

27-Aug-2012 Wachusett Reservoir Gate 35, Massachusetts

Site Location
This pine cone spider collection site was about 0.25 to 0.5 miles further down the Gate 35 trail than were my very first sample sites at Wachusett Reservoir. That short distance brought me to an entirely different topography from the former up-trail sites: a rocky bluff overlooking Prescott Cove.

Loon on the reservoir
The day began on a serious note when I read a "missing" notice about a local and much-loved young man posted at the gate.  An MWRA ranger had given me a flier about him the month before, and asked me to be on the lookout for him.  Sadly, his body was eventually found in the woods south of the reservoir, an apparent death by suicide.  After pondering the still-missing man during my hike in, I was happy to have the lively company of this loon.

View from atop the rocky bluff
My cone source was a stand of eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) and oaks (Quercus sp.) on the bluff top.  I found about half of the cones I sampled lying on reindeer lichens (Cladonia sp.) on the face of the bluff, while the rest came from the edge of the forest floor near the bluff face.

Cone on lichen on rock
I collected 11 spiders from 50 tapped cones but only one specimen was mature, a female Lathys pallida (Dictynidae).  The rest were from families I've found to be common in Wachusett Reservoir cones: Gnaphosidae, Lycosidae, Phrurolithidae, Salticidae, and Thomisidae.

I also found a lycosid exuvium in the cones.  The family's distinct eye pattern and notched trochanters make their exuviae the easiest for me to recognize.

Cone on forest litter
The pine needle & oak leaf litter was very thin and dry, yet still produced 15 juvenile spiders.  These included numerous gnaphosids of several genera as well as five Titanoeca sp. (Titanoecidae).

Micrathena gracilis out of web
Perhaps the most conspicuous animal in the forest this day was the orb-weaver Micrathena gracilis (Araneidae).  The females of this species build large, foot-wide orb-webs and wait smack in the middle. 
Micrathena gracilis in web
When a ray of sun streams through the canopy and hits her dense web and white, ten-spined dorsum, she blazes like a star.  It's quite a sight to see.

Acorn and mushroom

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