Wednesday, April 27, 2016

16-19 April 2016 Winter Haven, Florida

Site location map. Click to enlarge.
WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one Person to travel to Florida, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Arachnologists requires that I should declare the Cause which impelled me to bring along my spider net.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all pine cones are worthy of tapping, that they are endowed, by their INTERSTITIAL SPACES, with certain unalienable Benefits to Spiders, that among these are Habitat, Refuge, and the Pursuit of Prey.

In other words, since I needed to go to Florida anyways, I took the opportunity to tap a few fallen pine cones while there.  The effort has allowed me to place Florida on the World Map Of Pine Cone Spiders!

Location of Sites 1 and 2
Location of Site 3
I tapped fallen pine cones at three sites in the city of Winter Haven.  Sites 1 and 2 were located in the semi-rural northern end of the city, whereas Site 3 was located in the central suburban part of the city.

Site 1

Site 1 cone source: sand pine plantation
Site 1 fallen cone microhabitat
Site 1 was a sand pine (Pinus clausa) plantation bordered by wetlands, warehouses and light industry.  In the section I sampled, the understory was limited to the occasional palmetto (Serenoa repens), and there was no ground cover present.  Cones, most of which were well opened, rested on needle litter.

Juvenile salticid from Site 1
I tapped 50 cones and collected 6 juveniles spiders from 3 families and probably 4 species.  Four of the spiders were salticids.

Site 2

Site 2 cone source: longleaf
The habitat history of Site 2 was a little difficult for me to figure out.  My guess is that it was a originally a woodland that had been cleared of most vegetation decades ago in anticipation of a housing or orchard development that never occurred, and has since partially revegetated.  My pine cone source was a lone longleaf pine (P. palustris) growing on a grassy savanna-like area dotted with mature deciduous trees including cherries and oaks.  The cones lay on grass and herbs or needle litter, often in partial contact with very sandy soil.

A Site 2 cone
Female Heteroonops spinimanus from
Site 2
I tapped 20 fallen cones and collected 8 spiders from at least 4 families.  Only two specimens were mature, a male salticid that I haven't identified yet, and a female Heteroonops spinimanus (Oonopidae).  The latter was an especially interesting find for me, given that Florida is the the only place in the continental United States where the species is found.  The only other oonopiid I've ever collected was a male of the undescribed Orchestina sp. #1.  In 2011 I tapped it from ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) cones near Lake Chelan in Washington state.

In addition to a fair number of spiders, the Site 2 cones held oodles of small cockroaches.  For once, spiders weren't the fastest runners in my net!

Site 3

Site 3 cone source: longleaf pine near
Site 3 cones
A small urban park surrounding the Lake Elbert public boat ramp was my third collecting site.  Note the glorious Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) draped in Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) in the background.  It dwarfed our car.  I could have sat and gazed at that gorgeous tree all day.

Half a dozen longleaf pines had dropped enough cones in unmowed lakeside grass or in or near planting boxes around their bases that I was easily able to find 50 cones to tap.

A spitting spider, Scytodes sp.
Interestingly, none of the cones I found lying in the unmowed grass contained any spiders.  The 9 spiders that I collected all came from the cones laying on oak leaf or pine needle litter next to or within the planter surrounding the base of the pine in the foreground of my photo.  This batch of spiders were a relatively diverse bunch from five families: a female linyphiid and a male and female salticid I haven't identified yet, as well as juveniles from the families Clubionidae, Theridiidae and...Scytodidae!  I hadn't seen a scytodid before.  They're called spitting spiders because, according to Ubick et al. (2005):
Scytodids are unique among spiders in capturing prey by spitting strands of glue from the fangs; hence the common name.  The glue is produced in an enlarged posterior lobe of the venom gland that occupies much of the prosoma and accounts for the convex carapace of the spider.  Prey is bound to the substrate and immobilized, from a distance of up to a few cm, by fine strands of glue with venom that are sprayed extremely rapidly (140 ms).

Male brown anole
Anole with cone
Also present in this planter were several brown anoles (Anolis sagrei), an invasive lizard native to Cuba and the Bahamas and established in Polk County since at least 1979.  Watching them dart after invertebrates, I wondered whether spiders and other animals that use fallen pine cones are better able to survive the depredations of the brown anole than are other species.

Wheeler and Stoops (2010) reported the presence of spiders in fallen longleaf pine cones in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.  This blog post is the first report that I am aware of that confirms the presence of spiders in fallen cones in Florida.

Literature Cited

Ubick, D., P. Pacquin, P.E. Cushing and V. Roth (eds). 2005. Spiders of North America: an identification manual. American Arachnological Scoiety, Keene (New Hampshire). 377 pages.

Wheeler, A.G., Jr. and C.A. Stoops. 2010. Cnemodus hirtipes Blatchley and C. mavortius (Say) (Hemiptera: Lygaeoidea: Rhyparochromidae) in fallen pine cones, with consideration of the biological significance of cone occupancy. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 112:155–168.

Ants carrying sand grains near Lake Elbert (Site 3)

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) near Site 2

Sun streaming through Spanish moss (not really moss, but a bromeliad!) on oak at Site 3

Sunday, April 10, 2016

7-Apr-2016 South Fork Manastash Creek, Washington

Site location. Click photos to enlarge.
What with my penchant for sampling in ponderosa pine forests, Snoqualmie Pass being free of snow, and spring having thawed the lower elevations on the east side of the Cascades crest, Rod Crawford and I decided to head over to the Ellensburg area for an early spring sample.  Eastern Washington trips usually require a lot of driving, but I do love it once we're there!

A view from the snow-free south-facing
slope to the still-snowy north-facing side
Rod was concerned that our intended gridspace, which was at about 3,000 feet (950 m) in elevation, might still be blanketed in snow.  That was indeed the case for north-facing slopes in this canyon, but south-facing slopes were snow-free.  This meant we were sampling during the winter-spring transition.  How exciting!  Over the course of the day I sampled three separate cone accumulations. 

Site 1
Site 1
Site 1 cones
We set up shop in an open area between the road and the creek, and I immediately began tapping 50 fallen ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) cones that lay beneath a tree at the base of the south-facing slope.

Xysticus locuples male
I was absolutely astounded by the number and diversity of spiders I tapped from this set of cones: 64 spiders from 9 families and at least 16 genera!  Four species were identifiable, with Xysticus locuples (Thomisidae) by far the dominant one with 23 identifiable specimens. In addition, there were 10 juvenile Xysticus in the sample that couldn't be assigned to species.

Male Xysticus exuvium
I found numerous exuviae in these cones.  The exuviae I was able to collect without crushing were all left behind by penultimate Xysticus males molting into adulthood.

I also sifted two bags of pine needle litter associated with the cones, but collected only 4 spiders and 1 identifiable species, Xysticus montanensis (Thomisidae).  What a contrast to the cones!

Site 2
Site 2
Site 2 cones
I took a second ponderosa cone sample from the creek's floodplain on the snowy side of the canyon.  Most of the snow in this particular spot had melted, but isolated patches remained.  I tapped 50 fallen cones and collected 8 spiders from 5 families and 6 genera.  Two species were identifiable: Lephthyphantes mercedes (Linyphiidae) and Phrurotimpus paralellus (Phrurolithidae).

"Find your calling". Who paints
inspirational messages under remote
creek bridges? Who seeks them there?
At one point while I was sorting a subsample, stinging bites on my legs alerted me to the fact that I had also inadvertently "collected" a swarm of ants in my pants!  I must have stepped on a colony without realizing it.  They seemed to be everywhere all at once, both on and inside my clothing.  I wasted no time in dropping my drawers so I could whisk them away.  Ant swarm removal trumps modesty.

Site 3
Site 3. Note snow behind trees.
Rod pointed out a nice accumulation of fully open Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cones on the roadside verge just above my floodplain sample, so I tapped 50 of those cones too.  The result: 5 spiders and one species, Zelotes fratris (Gnaphosidae).  We didn't collect Z. fratris in any other microhabitat this day, so for that record alone the sample had been worth taking.

Although taken within sight of each other, the day's three cone samples were remarkably different.  There wasn't even one identifiable species common to any two sites. 

A rare glimpse of the cryptically colored Arachnophile crawfordii!
Beautiful ponderosas!

Friday, April 8, 2016

5-Apr-2016 Cottage Lake and Duvall, Washington

Site location map. Click to enlarge.
Having had no luck finding the introduced European crab spider Ozyptila praticola (Thomisidae) south of Federal Way, I decided to turn my search eastward.  My jump-off point was Woodinville, where I collected numerous juvenile O. praticola last year.  I stopped in Cottage Lake for my first cone sample, then crossed the Snoqualmie River into Duvall for my second.

1.  Cottage Lake
Black pines behind the Safeway
in Cottage Lake
Fallen cone microhabitat
behind the Safeway
I gravitate to business districts when searching for Ozyptila praticola because pine trees tend to be more prevalent in them than elsewhere.  The small shopping center on Woodinville-Duvall Road in Cottage Lake was no exception.  In fact, it exceeded my expectations because black pines (Pinus nigra) completely lined two of its sides.  And while groundskeepers had removed much of the needle litter and, presumably, many cones, I was still able to find 64 cones to tap. Some cones I tapped were lying on a very thin layer of needles or on moss, but most were on bare ground.

Male Bassaniana utahensis
Those 64 tapped cones produced 14 spiders for an absolutely average spiders per cone ratio of 0.22.  Three species were identifiable, two of them native: the crab spider Bassaniana (a.k.a. Coriarachne) utahensis (Thomisidae) and the tiny Tachygyna ursina (Linyphiidae).  I've tapped B. utahensis from cones in eastern Washington before, but this was the first time I'd done so in western Washington.  This specimen will become the first in the Burke Museum's collection from King County.  The other identifiable species was O. praticola.

2.  Duvall Park & Ride
Western white pines flanked this
building next to the Park & Ride
Some very productive cones were
hiding under this hedge!
Crossing the bridge into Duvall, I couldn't believe my good luck at immediately spotting western white pine trees (P. monticola) flanking a small business next to the Duvall Park & Ride.  Most of the pines were lining the driveway down to the P & R, making access to their fallen cones quite easy.

At first it didn't look like I'd be able to find a full sample of 50 cones to tap, but the more I searched, the more cones I found.  One of the most productive caches was underneath a hedge growing curbside in front of the business.  The cones were lying on a wide variety of substrates, including pavement, soil, uncut grass, and plant litter beneath the hedge.  I tapped 64 cones and collected 32 spiders, well above twice the average density! 

Clocking in at 14 juveniles, Enoplognatha probably-ovata (Theridiidae) was the most common morphospecies present.  Ozyptila praticola took second place, with 7 juveniles, followed by Phrurotimpus sp. (Phrurolithidae) with 4.  I also collected a very teneral Lepthyphantes male which I haven't identified yet.  But the most esoteric specimens in the sample were two juvenile Tibellus sp. (Philodromidae)!  This is one of the most common spiders found around here...on tall grass.  Not surprisingly, these came from the cones I found laying in tall, unmowed grass.

Clearly I have not yet found the eastern extent of O. praticola's local range. The search will continue eastward into the Cascades lowlands!
View of the Snoqualmie River from the Duvall bridge

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

1-Apr-2016 Fife, Tacoma and Fircrest, Washington

Site location map. Click to enlarge.
Last December I spent a rainy afternoon scouting out future cone tapping sites in and near Tacoma.  As I said at the time, greater Tacoma was my destination because it is the next metropolitan area south of Federal Way, the southern-most place I've found the introduced crab spider Ozyptila praticola (Thomisidae).  Now, four months later, I finally had the opportunity to return and tap those reconnoitered cones.

Fallback site in Fife
1. Fife
My first stop was the industrial area along the the northern bank of the Puyallup river, in Fife.  My plan was to tap cones dropped by the tall pines flanking the gates of Praxair, which I'd spotted months ago from Interstate 5 and had been dreaming of tapping ever since.  When I arrived, however, I found road construction materials and machinery lining the road in front of Praxair and disturbing my intended cone accumulations.  The congested roadway also made collecting along its margins too dangerous for my taste.  So much for plans!  Turning the car around, I was happy to almost immediately spot some large black pines (Pinus nigra) growing in the back corner of a nearby parking lot.  Beneath them were dozens of well-opened cones.  This would be my first site of the day.

Black pine cones on needle litter, Fife
Birdsong had been the soundtrack of my cone tapping on Lummi Island.  Here the soundscape was composed of peculiar clicking sounds coming from locomotives parked on the railroad tracks across the ditch, the bang-clang of rail cars being linked together, gaseous squeals emanating from Praxair, and the dull roar of Interstate 5.  Urban sampling: not so glamorous.

I tapped 75 cones and collected 7 spiders, all juveniles.  Most were the introduced European species Enoplognatha probably-ovata (Theridiidae), one of the most common spiders I find in fallen cones in western Washington.  I found no O. praticola.

A ponderosa pine dominates
the tiny greenspace next to
the fire station
Shore pines with fallen cones beneath
2. Tacoma Fire Station 2
Next I crossed the river and entered Tacoma proper.  A tiny triangle of land behind Tacoma Fire Station 2 supported three species of pine, each of which had dropped fully opened cones.  I sampled two separate cone accumulations.  Set I was comprised of Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and black pine (P. nigra) cones lying on mossy and/or grassy ground or needle litter.  Set II was comprised of shore pine (P. contorta var. contorta) and black pine cones lying mostly on bare ground or a very thin layer of pine needles.

Set I cones on moss
Xysticus cristatus female
I tapped 75 cones from set I and collected 7 spiders and 2 identifiable species. Both were introduced: Tenuiphantes tenuis (Linyphiidae) and Xysticus cristatus (Thomisidae).  From set II I tapped 100 cones and collected 12 spiders and 2 identifiable species, this time X. cristatus and a linyphiid which I haven't identified yet.  I hadn't been aware of the presence of X. cristatus in Washington until our recent trip to Lummi Island, where I found it in meadow sweeps as well as fallen cones.  Just in the nick of time to prepare me for identifying these Tacoma spiders!

I found no O. praticola in either set of fire station cones.

Shore pine cones
Shore pines
3. Near Humane Society
Continuing westward, I next stopped at a semi-industrial plaza at the corner of Center and S. Pine that had a row of shore pines planted along its border.  Tapping 50 cones there I collected only one spider, a juvenile Phrurotimpus sp. (Phrurolithidae).  I often find one or more juvenile Phrurotimpus in my western Washington cone samples, and indeed had already done so this day in the Fife and fire station samples.  While I was processing the cones, a crow plucked a stick from the tree canopy above me.  Nest-building time!

Massive western white pine
in Fircrest
4.  Fircrest
To this point none of the day's samples had been very speciose.  That changed with the fallen western white pine (P. monticola) cones I tapped in suburban Fircrest.  I collected 25 spiders and 7 species from 55 cones!  I haven't yet identified two of the species, but the others were all western Washington urban cone standards: the theridiid Cryptachaea blattea and the linyphiids Lepthyphantes leprosus, Tachygyna vancouverana, and Tenuiphantes tenuis.  No O. praticola, however.

The Ozyptila praticola question
All told, I tapped 355 cones at 4 sites this day.  If O. praticola is present in the greater Tacoma area, it isn't numerous or widespread enough to be detected by my sampling method.  I also didn't find any O. praticola last fall in the cities of Lakewood and DuPont, which lie immediately south of Tacoma.

Nest-building crow with twig in beak.

Monday, April 4, 2016

30-Mar-2016 Lummi Island, Washington

Site location map. Click to enlarge.
Spring!  What a treat to spend a day outdoors sampling spiders and not be in danger of either heat stroke or hypothermia, rattlesnakes or rain!  Conditions were perfect for Rod Crawford, Jessi Bishopp and I to enjoy gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery while sampling the last two unsampled gridspaces on Lummi Island.

Sitka spruce in pasture
Thanks to the good folks at the Lummi Island Heritage Trust, we had permission to sample in a privately owned pasture ("Pasture" on my map, above) and then in the Curry Preserve.  Neither location had pine trees, but there was no shortage of other conifers dropping cones for me to tap.

Sitka spruce cone on needle litter.
Painfully pointy spruce needles, ouch!
When we arrived at the pasture, I began sampling the first conifer vegetation I came to without first identifying the tree.  Ouch, that was a mistake!  The painfully sharp needles on that tree reminded me that we were in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) territory.  This isn't a species I see very often, so I hadn't ever tapped its cones before.  Now was my opportunity.

Woodlouse coming out of cone
scale pocket
Woodlice and a weevil
The pasture and surrounding forest were full of birdsong. I tapped 50 cones to the hoots of a barred owl, the rasping song of an Anna's hummingbird, and the bubbly song of several Pacific wrens.  Too bad I wasn't studying woodlice.  They were by far the most numerous occupants of these cones.  I also tapped out several weevils.  The little pockets created by the wavy cone scales seemed perfect for housing these tiny animals.  As for spiders, I collected 5 juveniles.  Most were Phrurotimpus sp. (Phrurolithidae).  Maybe it wasn't the most exciting cone spider sample, but now I can add Sitka spruce to the list of tree species whose fallen cones are used by spiders!

Looking across meadow from beneath
my Douglas-fir cone source at Curry
The fallen cone microhabitat at
Curry Preserve
My cone source at the Curry Preserve was a Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) growing at a meadow edge.  This meant that most of the cones I tapped were lying on meadow grass, a configuration I haven't sampled much.  I tapped 50 cones and collected 6 spiders from at least 5 species.  Unsurprisingly, this batch of cone spiders very much mirrored what I had already swept from the meadow, and included Araniella displicata (Araneidae), Xysticus cristatus (Thomisidae) and Zelotes sp. (Gnaphosidae).

Read Rod's trip narrative here and view his album here!

An Aculepeira sp. orbweaver in its rush-top retreat at Curry Preserve