Saturday, July 2, 2016

26-June-2016 Liberty Meadow & Red Top Lookout, Washington

Sample site location map. Click to enlarge.
I was glad that Rod Crawford had another gridspace off of Blewett Pass Highway (US97) in the stack of suggested destinations for the day, because I was eager to make a quick stop back at Liberty Meadow.  I had tapped over a dozen unusual-looking but unfortunately immature Steatoda (Theridiidae) from 100 fallen ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) cones there a few weeks prior.  I was eager to return and tap some (hopefully) now-mature specimens so that we could identify the species.  So we chose the area around Red Top Lookout on the Teanaway Ridge as our primary destination for the day, but first took a detour to Liberty Meadow on our way there.

Liberty Meadow

Immature Steatoda washona photographed 9-Jun-2016
in Liberty Meadow
On our return trip to Liberty Meadow I tapped 28 previously untapped cones from one of the Steatoda-rich deposits I'd sampled last time.  This time I collected 8 Steatoda, half of which were mature.  Yay!  Rod identified them as Steatoda washona.  In 1960, based on records available at the time, W. J. Gertsch described the range of S. washona as "Oregon and California, southward in the mountains into northern Baja California and eastward into Idaho and Utah and northern Arizona".  In other words, Washington not included.  But in 1984 Wayne Maddison collected S. washona near Kennewick, Washington (Benton County) in an Artemesia steppe environment.  The S. washona we collected at Liberty Meadow are the first to confirm Maddison's 1984 Washington finding, and will constitute the first specimens of the species in the Burke Museum's collection.

Meadow North of Red Top Lookout

Stunning meadow flowers
One of my cone sources on
the meadow
Our first collecting spot in the gridspace we were sampling this day was a meadow just north of the Red Top prominence and surrounding forest.  The wild flowers were in peak bloom, a truly lovely sight.  Seeing no pines in the area, I decided to tap cones dropped by the Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) that dotted the area.  I got skunked!  All I found in 50 cones was 5 juvenile Leptobunus harvestmen.  Spiders had been in those cones, though; I found their abandoned silk structures in many.

Female Steatoda albomaculata
on my thumb
Darker female S. albomaculata morph
Seeing as there were innumerable rocks to turn in this glorious meadow, I shifted my efforts to that microhabitat and soon discovered that another species of Steatoda, S. albomaculata according to Rod, was dominant here.

Female Steatoda adding silk to her
egg sac
Male S. albomaculata found beneath
cliffside rock
Usually the S. albomaculata were clinging to the undersides of the rocks I turned over, but one rock had been serving as the roof of a nursery chamber.  I had the pleasure of watching a female adding silk to the exterior of her fluffy egg sac.  Steatoda albomaculata were also the most common species I found under and around the exposed cliffside rocks along the trail to the Red Top summit.

Red Top Summit

Stunted Douglas-firs on Red Top
Spider-free summit cones
Growing on the Red Top summit are a few stunted Douglas-firs and, surprisingly, due to the altitude, ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa).  I tapped another set of 50 Douglas-fir cones and again got skunked.  But if you're looking for ants, these are the cones for you!

Blue Creek Trailhead

Cone source at Blue Creek
trailhead: western white pine
Fallen western white pine cones
After wrapping up our Red Top sampling, we stopped at an additional site about 500 meters lower in elevation.  This put us solidly back in the ponderosa pine zone, which was our goal.  But by chance there was a western white pine (Pinus monticola) conveniently located at the trailhead, so I opted to tap 50 of its fallen cones.  Many of them were laden with sand washed from the trail by runoff rainwater, but I was still able to collect 10 spiders and 3 species: the common Cryphoeca exlineae (Agelenidae), the not as common Zanomys aquilonia (Amaurobiidae), and a Meioneta (Linyphiidae) still to be identified.

Be sure to read Rod's account of the day here!
Distant meadows and Teanaway Ridge visible from trail to lookout
Sphecid wasp on yellow flowers
Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) growing in the scree
"In-flight beverage service"
Male Steatoda albomaculata fighting in a cliffside web.  Chelicerae
open wide, fangs bared, lots of fearsome lunging.

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