Sunday, May 31, 2015

31-May-2015 Northeast Seattle, Washington

Site location
A few weeks ago, while I was tapping fallen cones under the lone pine in a northeast Seattle parking lot, one of the locals invited me to also tap the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cones lying under the neighboring hedge.  I passed on the opportunity since I was strapped for time that day.  But once I realized that my pine cone sample contained several penultimate Ozyptila (Thomisidae) females, I was eager to return after enough time had elapsed that I might find some mature specimens.

Sample site. Note 'lone pine'
in distance on right.
The fallen cone microhabitat
Many hundreds of Douglas-fir cones lay beneath the hedge bordering the parking lot, their parent trees growing on the other side of the border fence.  Most of the fallen cones on that side of the fence had been removed by maintenance workers, so I was sampling from a long, thin island of cones.

Ozyptila praticola epigynum
Female O. praticola
I tapped 50 cones and collected 8 spiders and 3 species, all introduced from Europe.  And yes, one was a mature female Ozyptila: O. praticola!  I presume that the juvenile Ozyptila I collected today and a few weeks ago under the nearby lone pine are also O. praticola since their coloration and patterning were the same as the female, but of course there is no way to know for sure. Rod Crawford first collected this species in Washington in 1976 from leaf litter on the University of Washington campus.  I had tapped the species once before from fallen Pinus strobus cones in Seattle's Green Lake Park.

Female Tenuiphantes tenuis
T. tenuis epigynum,
partially obscured
The other identifiable species in today's sample were Enoplognatha thoracica (Theridiidae) and Tenuiphantes tenuis (Linyphiidae).  I recently tapped both species from fallen pine cones in Seattle's Woodland Park.

Known distribution of Ozyptila praticola. Adapted from a
British Arachnological Society

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

20-May-2015 Woodland Park, Seattle, Washington

Site locations
Recently I checked on the availability of fallen ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) cones in Seattle's Woodland Park.  As readers may recall, I didn't find any when I was there in 2011, but I was hoping that the trees had had a mast year in the mean time.  What I found was that the ponderosas in the park's core woodland had dropped few cones, and most of those were unopened.  Happily, however, several ponderosas growing on the woodland's edge had dropped numerous open cones.

Site by lower tennis courts. Cedars on
the left, pines center and right, courts
in background.
Although my plan for today had been to tap those "edge" ponderosa cones, I decided instead to tap cones from other species of pines that had fallen in places vulnerable to groundskeeping activities like mowing and mulching.  My assumption was that those cones will soon get "cleaned up" as the Parks Department prepares for summer.  I wanted to tap them before they disappeared.  My hope is that the ponderosa cones will be left in place since most had fallen in untended areas.  I tapped non-ponderosa pine cones at two sites: the west side of the lower tennis courts, and a spot on the west side of the south-end picnic area.

A contrast in substrates.
Photographed from under
the cedars.
Juvenile Enoplognatha sp. were
in both sets of tennis area cones
I got to work tapping fallen pine cones to the sound of tennis lessons on the nearby court: 25 cones on the lawn, and another 25 cones that had come to rest under an adjacent pair of mature western red cedars (Thuja plicata).  The lawn cones produced but one spider, a juvenile Enoplognatha (Theridiidae, probably ovata, based on coloration and markings) and one harvestman.  In contrast, the cones resting on conifer litter under the cedar canopy produced 8 spiders and 24 harvestmen.  These included more juvenile E. probably-ovata as well as a female E. thoracica, some juvenile crab spiders and a 6 mm long male clubionid I haven't identified yet.

Site opposite Picnic Shelter 2
Cones accumulated against log
My other site was located on the opposite side of the south picnic area, across the driveway from Picnic Shelter 2.  Here a few scattered pines had dropped cones on a sloping grassy lawn.  Numerous cones had accumulated against a log at the base of slope.  Tapping 30 cones from each 'zone', I collected 3 spiders and 39 juvenile harvestmen from the lawn cones and 3 spiders and 65 harvestmen from the cones against the log.  Both cone samples contained Tenuiphantes tenuis (Linyphiidae), but I also collected a female E. thoracica from the lawn cones. Many of the harvestmen from cones against the log were visibly larger than those I collected from the lawn cones, although only a few were mature.

Spiders have fangs, harvestmen
have pincers ("chela").

As I was tapping cones at my second site, a man stopped his car long enough to ask what I was doing.  "Looking for spiders!" was of course my reply, to which he said simply "Oh", and drove on.  But his curiosity must have caught up with him, because he returned later to ask if I'd had any luck.  Upon hearing that I'd found lots of harvestmen, he gave me a puzzled look that vanished into delight when I translated into the colloquial "daddy long-legs".  "I love those things!" he declared, and walked on smiling.

The only other conversation I had was a one-sided one with a crow who dive-bombed my head, as crows tend to do during nesting season.  Approaching in silent flight from behind, it expelled a loud caw at the moment it back-flapped its wings to give my hair a blast of air.  I was so startled that I nearly dropped my bucket.  It continued cawing at me from a pine branch, but eventually landed nearby and started exploring the lawn.  I was wondering if it had noticed the numerous (tasty?) earwigs that I kept emptying from my bucket.  They were almost as common as harvestmen in these cones.

This is what a sample with 65 harvestmen & 3 spiders looks like

Friday, May 22, 2015

15-May-2015 Jumpoff Ridge, Washington

Site locations (click to enlarge)
A USDA entomologist recently gave the Burke Museum a set of spiders he collected in fruit orchards near Wenatchee.  This meant that Rod had several gridspaces in the area that had a dozen or so species known to them, which for Rod's purposes constitutes only a partial sample.  Our goal for the day was to sample additional habitats in one or two of those gridspaces until we increased the species total of each to 21 or above.

Steep-sided Dry Gulch to Rod's left,
Columbia River in background
Purple sage (Salvia dorrii) and
round-headed desert buckwheat
(Eriogonum sphaerocephalus) produced
crab and jumping spiders
Our first stop was Dry Gulch.  Not a likely place to find pine cones for me to tap, but that was ok since we figured we'd be able to collect the minimum number of species (7) in no time, then move on to a higher-elevation gridspace that had ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa).  Ha!  So much for plans!  The spiders we found in the habitats near the road were not a diverse enough bunch to complete our sample: just a few species of jumping spider, a crab spider that probably had already been collected in the orchards, and a small number of under-rock species (which all later turned out to be juveniles).

How did that
car get down there?
Wolf spiders (Lycosidae) were
common on riverside cobbles
We decided that the best likelihood of completing a sample was to hike to the gulch's outlet at the Columbia river.  There we hoped to find some productive riparian habitats.  Dry Gulch's bed contained plunges and cliffs, preventing us from taking what would have otherwise been the simple route to the river.  The overland route was straightforward enough, but forced us to wade through a dense sea of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), an invasive species whose sharp-pointed seeds are so good at worming their way through boots and socks and irritating the skin within.  We had quite a sock-picking party later, after returning to the car.

This white mulberry (Morus alba)
was loaded with spiders
Rod happy after the
riparian finds
At the river margin I had some success capturing wolf spiders from the riverside cobbles as well as other types from the foliage of the introduced tree species, white mulberry (Morus alba).  For his part, Rod was pleased with the fauna he found under shaded rocks and in riparian herbs.  He would later confirm that we did indeed complete the sample. The trouble was, we had spent most our day doing it.  We still had time to tap ponderosa cones up on Stemilt Hill's Jumpoff Ridge, but only provided we quickly found some.

Beautiful but unproductive ponderosas
on Stemilt Hill
The sorry (unopened) state of
ponderosa cones on Stemilt Hill
Well, we found the ponderosas quickly enough, but as happens sometimes, this stand was a poor cone producer.  I could find few fallen cones, and of those, most were unopened.  In the end, I only managed to find and tap 15 open cones, which produced a total of one juvenile Steatoda (Theridiidae).  Due to the late hour and the 3-hour drive home still ahead of us, there simply wasn't enough time to scout out another stand.  We called it a day and made a quick stop at EZ's Burger Deluxe in Wenatchee before aiming the car towards Blewett Pass and home.

Be sure to read Rod's take on the day here.

Fueling up for the drive home

12-May-2015 Northeast Seattle, Washington

Site location
Having moved back to Seattle the week before, I was by this day more than eager to tap some pine cones.  Although our busy schedule didn't immediately allow for a full field day, I did manage to gain access to a lone pine growing in a relatively undisturbed corner of a nearby parking lot.  With a cone source so conveniently located, I was able to tap 50 cones in 1.5 hours, a very doable time commitment!

Sample site
I suspect that the tree is a black pine (Pinus nigra), a European species widely planted as an ornamental in the United States. I tapped the cones of the maritimus variety of P. nigra last year on Waasdorpervlakte in the Netherlands.  (Fun fact: A black pine growing in the Oxford Botanic Garden was one of J. R. R. Tolkien's favorite trees.)

Pine cone over my "net", a bucket.
The cones beneath the Seattle tree have a fine prickle on each scale, and there are two needles per sheaf.  The cones of ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) also have prickly scales and two or three needles per sheaf, but I've ruled it out as the species because the cones beneath the Seattle tree would be unusually small if it were a ponderosa, and because the tree doesn't display a ponderosa's typical growth form.  Scots pine (P. sylvestris) is another commonly planted European species that also has prickly cones and 2 needles per sheaf, but its cones are stalked.  The present cones aren't.

Fallen cone microhabitat
The tree was growing in a relatively untended plot (meaning no habitat-smothering wood chips!) on the border of the Burke-Gilman Trail.  This section of the trail constitutes a linear mixed hardwood-conifer forest.  Volunteers have in recent years replaced invasive understory species like Himalayan blackberry and English ivy with native shrubs and herbs.  The pine I tapped is adjacent to one such renovated area, with a wooden fence between.

This tiny crab spider was a
penultimate female
There were no lack of cones to tap, despite the single source.  Had I the time and the inclination, I could have tapped hundreds.  Instead, I tapped the customary 50 and got 20 spiders and 15 juvenile harvestmen.  The vast majority of the spiders were Ozyptila sp. crab spiders from the family Thomisidae, but I also got a few Phrurotimpus sp. ground sac spiders and a juvenile agelenid.  I'll have to re-sample next month, by which time there will hopefully be some mature specimens about.

Juvenile Ozyptila
Although I'm back in Seattle, my spider net isn't yet.  I improvised with a bucket and found it serviceable.  The rigid plastic provided a very nice striking surface, and the light color and light-transmitting plastic contrasted nicely with the darker arachnids.  The main drawback was that it was more difficult to capture specimens on the hard plastic bucket surface than it is from my pliable sailcloth net.
Rhododendron blazing beneath the pine

Thursday, May 21, 2015

30-Jun-2008 Whitepine Creek Trailhead, Washington

Site location (click to enlarge)
I don't know whether white pine trees really grow along Whitepine Creek, but imagine my delight at finding not just western white pine (Pinus monticola) growing at Whitepine Creek Trailhead, but ponderosa (P. ponderosa) and lodgepole (P. contorta var. latifolia) pine too!

Tri-pine forest
The cones of lodgepole pines tend to remain on the branches for years, so there weren't many around to tap.  But white and ponderosa pines drop their cones annually.  I got to work tapping those.  I collected 6 spiders and 3 species from an unknown number of ponderosa cones, and 10 spiders and two species from white pine cones.

Ponderosa cones in bearberry
The two cone samples both contained numerous specimens of the "pine cone spider" Euryopis formosa (Theridiidae), and I found the uncommon species Enoplognatha intrepida (Theridiidae) in the ponderosa sample.  But the most interesting find was from the white pine cones: 3 female, 1 male and 1 juvenile Theridion rabuni (Theridiidae).  This was the first time this species had been recorded in the state.

Theridion rabuni collection sites in Washington
In the subsequent two years I would also tap T. rabuni from cones found near the mouth of Chatter Creek and at Nason Creek Rest Stop.  Curiously, all three locations are located in river valleys surrounding the Chiwaukum Mountains.

Read Rod's trip narrative here!
A comma (Polygonia sp.) gave Rod the Hermes look

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1-Jul-2009 Upper Rock Rabbit Lake, Washington

Site location (click to enlarge)
Driving eastward over Snoqualmie Pass, my attention used to drift towards Keechelus Lake, the source of the Yakima River.  I never gave much thought to the wall of rock on the other side of the road, beyond hoping that it stayed in place while we drove beneath it.  But now that I know that the Rock Rabbit Lakes lie above that rampart, I tip my hat to it when driving by while the adage "All it takes is a few good cones" runs through my mind.

Upper Rock Rabbit Lake
We had to do some hot, buggy uphill hiking and trans-alder bushwhacking to get to the upper lake, as Rod described in his trip write-up.  But once there, wow, what a lovely site.

As Rod set to work sifting alder litter, I began exploring the rim of the lake to the calls of the lake's namesakes, pikas (a.k.a. "rock rabbits") coming from the boulder field above.

White pine cone at base of parent tree
I was delighted to discover a sizable western white pine (Pinus monticola) tree growing on a forested prominence above the lake.  There was just that one tree, and below it only about half a dozen fallen cones, but I eagerly tapped them anyway.  And to good effect!  From those few cones I collected 5 spiders and 4 species.  None of them were particularly noteworthy (3 linyphiids and 1 agelenid), but they were species we didn't collect in any other microhabitat that day and so were a meaningful contribution to the site's species list.  All it takes is a few good cones!

The flower crab spider Misumena vatia with prey (a bee) in a trillium

Monday, May 18, 2015

24-25 Jun 2009 Chatter Creek & Leavenworth, Washington

Site locations (click to enlarge)
No vacation can be complete without a little cone tapping!  So as we prepared for our road trip to central Washington, I packed my net and sample vials, "just in case".  I knew we'd be in the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) zone at least sometimes. 

Chatter Creek
My first opportunity to tap cones came on 24 June, the day we hiked near the mouth of Chatter Creek.  I didn't want to miss the hike or try the patience of my traveling companions, so I sampled on the fly.  This entailed picking up cones as I walked past them and beating them while walking, only stopping when the debris started getting too thick in the net.  Luckily my companions liked to stop frequently to admire the view, the flora, and the fauna, so it wasn't as disruptive to the flow of the hike as it could have been.

A friend observes the
sample sorting operation
Ponderosa cones
I tapped 11 spiders and 5 species from an unrecorded number of ponderosa cones.  Besides the "pine cone spiders" Euryopis formosa (Theridiidae) and Pholcophora americana (Pholcidae), my sample also included several Cryphoeca exlineae (Agelenidae) and one female Theridion rabuni (Theridiidae).  This was only the second record of T. rabuni having been collected in Washington.

A view of Leavenworth
from my cone sampling site
Ponderosa cones not yet tapped
Checking into our B&B in Leavenworth, I couldn't help but notice that the hill across the street was home to a stand of ponderosa pines.  After breakfast the next morning I darted out for some quick cone tapping before we began the next leg of our road trip.  I collected 8 spiders and 3 species from an unrecorded number of cones.  Like the day before, the sample included the common "pine cone spiders" E. formosa and P. americana, but also 2 females from the uncommon species Mallos pallidus (Dictynidae).

The remainder of our trip was in the mostly treeless Grand Coulee area, but I didn't pine for the pines.  I was happy to have been able to collect these two samples, and contentedly set aside my net for the rest of our journey.

Fantasy flora on a friend's fingernail