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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

Adventures with Arthropods!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

bread and puppet

"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Adventures with Arthropods!

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black-eyed susan
I'm in the throes of my second summer break, and if I've been quiet, it's because I've been extremely productive in getting things done that have needed doing. I've been spending much of my day outside, working at the back patio table, underneath our Japanese maple. It's August. It's bug/spider season.

I like creepy-crawlies. I was a weird kid who wanted to be an entomologist once upon a time. I used to pretty regularly get bug kits and collecting supplies for birthdays and Christmases. I had an ant farm and once raised six painted lady butterflies; it was rare to fall asleep at night without a jar of fireflies in my room. As an adult, I continue to love insects and spiders and sometimes even regret not pursuing entomology.

Well, I've been having close encounters of the multi-legged kind since spending much of the week so far working outside under a tree that routinely drops them on me. First of all, we have our annual big-ass orange spider; usually, it builds its web across the back door each night and tears it down come morning (and Bobby sometimes sticks his face through it in the morning and the spider runs down the front of his shirt), but this year, it's living under the patio umbrella: a good thing, since it almost eliminates the chance of any running-down-the-front-of-one's-shirt disasters from occurring. It is, of course, living directly over Bobby's usual place at the table. I don't mind them (when they're smallish, like this one), so they inevitably drop down/crawl on him. One of the laws of spiders is that if they know you don't like them, they will drop down on you, even if they have a vast empty space to drop down in.

The other day, I had a big jar of tea out here with me. At one point, I happened to look up at it and am glad that I didn't just blindly reach for it, because perched on it, almost out of sight where I would have grabbed the jar, was a HUGE wheel bug, the biggest I've ever seen at close to 2 inches/5 cm long.

Wheel bugs came from Mother Nature's brief steampunk phase. I took some pictures of my wheel bug with my webcam, but they didn't come out as well, so I will cheat and use a picture off Wikimedia Commons with some pretty flowers to distract from the big honkin scary-looking venomous insect poised upon them.

Wheel bug again (5062909714)

Wheel bugs are beneficial in the garden, but they will also deliver a bite that is more painful and more venomous than a beesting. (Or so I've read. I've never been bitten by one.) They're pretty sluggish and mostly chill. I think they're cool, but they're something I give a lot of respect, i.e., I don't go about picking them up and move them from the vicinity of humans when I find them there. I never saw them when I was a kid, but we seem to grow them around here and under the Japanese maple specifically, where I frequently encounter the small, bright red early instars, suggesting that they lay their eggs somewhere around here. (A very early instar was crawling on me yesterday.) We had a clutch of wheel bug eggs on the bricks in front of the house when we first moved here; I didn't know what they were at the time.

Back to spiders, yesterday I felt something in my hair and went to brush it out and felt a distinct carapace, and since I couldn't see it and still had that huge wheel bug on my mind, shook out my hair and never found out what it was. Later, I was sitting with Bobby when he first got home and felt something crawling on my arm and looked down: It was a jumping spider, one of the cute fuzzy gray ones. I used to have one in my study that was shy; this one was pretty bold. I brushed it off onto the chair next to me. They have really good vision, and you can see them taking in the world around them. It was watching me, and I was watching it, so I held out a finger about an inch from it. I could see it tilt up its little face to look at my finger. It was touching its face with its pedipalps and looked like it was stroking its beard.

Jumping spiders are almost quantum. They are in one place in one instant and then somewhere else in the next without you ever perceiving that they've jumped. This one must have decided I was safe because, the next thing I knew, it had appeared on the tip of my finger.

I let it crawl up my arm and then brushed it back onto its chair because I didn't want it jumping into my hair, where I might hurt it trying to get it out. Later, I felt something on my neck, brushed it away, and came away with my jumping spider in my hand. (See how it is now "my" jumping spider?) Last night, Bobby was sitting in its chair, and I kept hoping it wouldn't crawl on him because he has the normal human reflex of slapping at a critter crawling on him before seeing what it is, and I didn't want him to kill it. But it never appeared. Yet first thing this morning, I felt something on my ear, brushed at it, and there was my jumping spider.

I put it back on its chair, but I don't see it right now. I'm sure I'll find it crawling on me later.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • You would have been in heaven in the basement of my mother and father's house where I grew up. It was more like a combination dungeon/spider sanctuary.

    My grandmother slapped at one once and what seemed like thousands of babies streamed out. Even she, who was pretty much unshakeable, thought that was notable. (You have to also try to imagine three little girls between the ages of four and eight screaming their lungs out!)

    Edited at 2014-08-28 02:55 pm (UTC)
    • We get quite a few in our basement as well, especially in the unfinished parts, mostly the long-legged cellar spiders, but in the fall, we get these big black ones (not quite as big as wolf spiders) that sneak in from outside. I'm not exaggerating when I say "sneak": I've seen them waiting beside the front door, and they will scamper into the house when the door opens.

      Those I do catch and remove because they freak Bobby out, and they're so big I half worry they're going to eat the dog food! :D

      My grandmother slapped at one once and what seemed like thousands of babies streamed out.

      That happened to my mom when I was a kid. It was what appeared to be a huge spider in the kitchen, she smacked at it with something, and it disintegrated into thousands of baby spiders and a not-very-impressive mama spider underneath.
  • Ooh, jumping spider. They're so cute. =D *envies*

    I'd never heard of a wheel bug before. I'll have to look that up sometime when I'm not about to be running late.
    • Yay, another jumping spider fan! Although I am not surprised. :)

      I'd never heard of or seen wheel bugs prior to moving here. I only grew up an hour away.

      I first encountered them as very early instars in the garden. There were about twenty small bright red insects clustered on a cucumber in my garden. As we were battling squash bugs at the time (if we have cucurbits, we're pretty much battling squash bugs, though), I was paranoid about clusters of small bugs on vegetables in the garden. I didn't want to kill them outright, not know what they were, so I collected them in a jar and brought them in the house to look them up, fully convinced that I'd be euthanizing them in short order. However, my research revealed them to be young wheel bugs, a very beneficial insect, so I returned them to the garden with apologies for disrupting their day! :D Now I see the adults and the young ones around all the time.
  • I too have never heard of wheel bugs. Gah! I've just moved to Maryland. Are they a Maryland thing? *glances suspiciously at new, otherwise lovely, lawn and garden*
    • Welcome to Maryland! What part, if I may ask? :)

      If it's any consolation, I've lived in Maryland my whole life, and where I currently live (Manchester, northern Carroll County) is the only place where I've seen wheel bugs. I grew up in eastern Baltimore County, in Kingsville, and my forays as an amateur entomologist let me meet all kinds of interesting critters but never wheel bugs.

      I just skimmed the Wikipedia entry on them, and it seems they're found throughout North America but rarely seen because ... well, they're chill. :) They're not particularly keen on us anymore than we are on them! So you probably had them where you came from too.

      The entry also notes, quoting a UMd Extension agent, that they are a sign of a healthy landscape, so if you happen to encounter one, that might not be a bad thing. Seriously, I see them constantly around the yard and garden and have never felt threatened by them. They just sit there; they're not aggressive. They just tend to look intimidating because they're so big and weird-looking.

      I did once have a celebrity death match just outside my patio door between a wheel bug and a tunnel spider. The spider won ...
      • We moved just last week (a week ago today!) to the lovely and eminently walkable Frederick, Maryland. Our youngest daughter, husband, and dog have lived here for several years.

        I find bugs fascinating but any time "venom" is mentioned I tend to become concerned. I'll keep my eyes open!

        Edited at 2014-08-28 05:06 pm (UTC)
        • Ah, you're the next county over from me! :) We actually have quite a few of us Tolkien folk here in Maryland; MithLuin and Tanis are in central Maryland as well.

          Wheel bug venom seems to be more painful than dangerous. All the same, I keep my hands clear of them and inspect my tea jars from now on!
  • Ooooh, a wee Phidippus! They are so cute, and I am certain that their relatively flat "faces" and those big anterior medial eyes contribute to that. Plus, they are just little and endearing. It sounds like it took a shine to you...like an eight-legged puppy! :^D

    I also like the "Charlottes" (the orb weavers), but maintain a healthy respect for them. That is, I wouldn't mind a little jumping spider on my finger, but I'd be sweating bullets if an orb weaver was crawling on me. Or running down the front of my shirt. Bobby, fellah, I feel ya. Yes, I do. *shudders*

    I would never be so sanguine concerning wolf spiders (Hogna sp.) or grass spiders (Agelenopsis sp.). One of those fuckers was involved in the famous Spider-Biting-a-Little-Kid's-Bare-Foot Incident, which made an indelible impression on the little kid, now nearly a geriatric.

    Love the assassin bug photo! My dad told me not to mess with wheel bugs, so I left well enough alone...unlike my encounters with the bumble bees.

    Edited at 2014-08-30 12:01 am (UTC)
    • like an eight-legged puppy!

      Okay, this killed me! :D

      I haven't seen my little jumping spider in a few days, despite sitting outside quite a bit and using his chair as my footrest, so I'm guessing my eight-legged puppy moved on.

      I also like the "Charlottes" (the orb weavers), but maintain a healthy respect for them.

      Same here. The annual "big-ass orange spider" usually gets pretty big. I like watching it through the glass when it builds its web across the patio door but don't want to be in direct contact with it. Even opening the patio door to let the dogs in and out is done quickly and cautiously; it's really freaky when the house fan is running and the spider and its web get sucked into the house a bit. D^: This year's, perhaps because it built under the patio umbrella (where it presumably gets less to eat because the light is dimmer) isn't as big. It doesn't make me nervous. I sit near it every night when we sit outside.

      But if it gets bigger, then we'll be relocating our evening sitting spot. ;)

      I do not fuck with wolf spiders. I had a traumatic experience with a wolf spider at Girl Scout camp. (I'm sure you've heard it by now!) That made me mildly arachnophobic for some years after.

      I had to look up grass spiders; we get those too, though never in the house, to the best of my knowledge. I don't mess with those either but mostly because 1) they're so quick they're pretty much impossible to mess with and 2) I'm more freaked out by spiderwebs than spiders, and grass spiders do a good job of encasing themselves. We once had a grass spider built its funnel beside the patio door, and it caught a full-grown wheel bug! The spider would approach the wheel bug and you could almost hear it thinking, "Oh shit," as it reached for it, then scurried back into its tunnel. Eventually, it must have gotten brave because the wheel bug lost that one.

      unlike my encounters with the bumble bees.

      I used to touch bumblebees because they were so fuzzy and soft. I never got stung, though. I'm sensing there is a story behind this? :D
  • We have a/some pet spider(s) in the living room. I used to kill them >_< but I've grown quite fond of them lately.

    I gained respect for him when I realized he could see me/us (and you know how I am with spiders!). He lives in one alcove and commutes to the other every day. He'll sneak out, into a crevice, and freeze, then dart to another hiding point, and so on. He can see me looking at him and when I move, he'll move. It's how he's survived to this point; me moving away meant he better run and hide because I was looking for a shoe. :-/

    I'm not trying to have them crawl on me or anything, but I now know where they're headed and so I try not to bother them. I didn't even vacuum him up last week when I had the chance. Baby steps...

    They might be evicted on Monday though, when we're getting a TV unit built. :-/
    • Sharon, I am proud of you! :D That is real progress from the days when I'd hear a wailing, "DAAAAaaaawn!" from the basement and be threatened that if I didn't come and get it, then you were going to kill it. ;)

      The jumping spider that lived in my study for a while used to hide out in the printer tray; I'd see his little glittery eyes poke above the lip of the tray, watching me; if I moved too abruptly, he'd duck down so that I couldn't see him. Then, once I was still for a while, he'd look out again.

      I know you get fewer bugs than we do, but we became very tolerant of house spiders when we had the invasion of the brown marmorated stinkbugs a few years ago. We'd rather have the spiders than the stinkbugs, and the spiders were catching stinkbugs pretty regularly. (I once watched a jumping spider stalk a stinkbug in the study, which was cool.)

      I hope your spider(s) get safely relocated for the TV unit!
  • Oh, I like spiders and raise them to consume all the mosquitos, biting flies and other blood sucking insects.
    We live at the countryside, and there are lots of them...
    In my little new build sleeping room, a part of the former indoor pool, a huge wolf spider has its home, and I watched it for several times just sitting at the corner of the ceiling, and, in some strange way, seems to ? Lure? the tipulidae, I do' nt know the english term for those long legged mosquitos, but I hope you know.
    They come near the spider to be overwhelmed by a sudden escapade.
    I wonder why they do so, do you maybe have an explanation?
    We have now basement, but our garage is a sider' s paradise, and we have two kitchen windows, which seems to be an upgraded adress for spiders, because a street lantern invites a l8t of good eatable stuff for them, and a ? Sill? keeps them dry, even if the rain is heavy pouring down.
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