Archive for the ‘spiders’ Category

quiet times on the high desert   21 comments

wind-worn pink cliffs along Kanab Creek

I continue with the account of our travels through Utah in November. The last post featured several of the old buildings encountered along Route 89 between Sevier and Kanab.

Based on the writings and photos in this blog, it probably seems as though the dogs and I are always on the move. While it’s true that we do cover a lot of distance during our autumn travels, as often as possible, I try find suitable places where we can rest and also do a little exploring. Over the past three migrations, the high desert region around Kanab has become yet another home to us. Yes, if you travel enough times through an area, you will become grounded by that place. You’ll get to know where to find fresh produce, the location of the regional BLM office and local library, the gas station where your Canadian credit card will work without a hassle at the self serve pumps. Stay a little longer and you’ll learn the short cuts from one part of the county to another, talk to local people and find out about interesting sights that aren’t described in any tourist guide, meet other travelers who share the secret locations of their favourite campsites, hiking trails, or rock art sites. Stay in a place less than three days and chances are that you will miss out on all of the above.

section of cliff showing cross-bedded layers of Navajo sandstone

The area where we camp is on the high desert west of Kanab, at an elevation of about 6000 feet (1800 meters). The geology is fascinating – wind-eroded layers of Navajo sandstone forming undulating cliffs of yellow through pink. It’s a place of sagebrush, juniper and pinyon. I’ve posted more than the usual number of photos because I wanted to share how it feels to wander through this landscape. I tried to narrow it down to the usual 4 or 5, but soon realized this was an impossible task. Even with this collection, it seems that I’m not doing the place justice. You will just have to go there yourself.

Sage and Sabrina in the van – by early morning light

When in this region, I usually camp at a little BLM site. As we travel through either very early or late in the season, we are most often alone, or see only another camper or two. That’s how I prefer it to be. When camped alone, I leave the blinds pushed up so that we can gaze out upon the landscape, and watch the moon and stars wheel across the night sky.

a Ponderosa pine looms above the van, catching the first warm rays of sunlight

We awake to the sound of Ravens investigating our campsite – a common event when camped in the high desert. Lying in bed, I watch the dawn light illuminate the bark of a towering Ponderosa, staining it a rosy pink. I notice that the leader and several other branches are missing. It seems a wonder that this grove of tall trees manages to survive in such an arid place.

the view out the back window of our van

The dogs and I are in no hurry to rise as, in spite of the warm rays of light, it is yet quite cold. We lie looking out across the landscape, watching as the sun climbs higher. Soon the air temperature in the van will rise rapidly. Our neighbour from last night drives off to put in a day of work at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. He had stopped around the previous evening to say hello to Sage and Sabrina. We stood talking a short while. He told me he drives quite a long distance to stay in this area while doing volunteer work for a couple of weeks three times each year. He has been doing this for the five years since his wife died. He says it is therapeutic – it helps him to feel better. There’s another lone man camped nearby, also volunteering at the sanctuary. I wonder about his story. Is it similar? I ponder over how strange it is that I cross paths with others such as myself – people whose lives have been so radically disrupted by fate – all of us now searching for some way to find meaning in what remains.

one of the more treed areas of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes region

Our campsite borders on a geologic feature known as the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Some areas of the dunes are now preserved for nature observation and scientific study. Other large sections are now part of an extensive ORV trail system that spans hundreds of miles of southwest Utah. This unusual landscape is home to several rare species of flora and fauna. It is the only place where the rare Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle (Cicindela limbata albissima) can be found.

what looks to be a spider den in the sand

By day, the dogs and I go for walks on the nearby sand dunes. There are animal tracks everywhere. It seems that even the smallest expanse of sand is criss-crossed by mice, rabbit, deer, birds, beetles or any one of a number of other creatures that forage about between the sagebrush and other vegetation.

what look to be beetle tracks intersecting with those of a small rodent

People often say to me that they don’t like the desert because it’s so dry and lifeless. I wonder that we can be thinking of the same place. Their desert is a silent, hostile place, devoid of all life. My desert is filled with the scurrying of tiny lizards, the slow and ponderous progress of pinacate beetles, the chirps, whistles and songs of birds, and the busy foraging of rodents and other wildlife. Can these two visions of one place exist in parallel?

stalks of grass – perhaps Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) – if you know, please leave a comment

By November, daylight hours become noticeably less. We end our walks by four so that I have time to cook dinner and clean up before darkness falls. I sit in my folding chair while the dogs stretch out on mats that I put down to keep their coats free of sand and stickers. Most nights, we share the same food. I’ve found they do better and keep well on my own cooking as opposed to purchased dog foods. After clean-up, we go for a last walk of the day and then find a place to watch as the sun sets and the stars come out to play. That is how we live our days on the high desert.

Sage and Sabrina rest beside a juniper

Written by bev wigney on December 24th, 2010

the hitchhiker   15 comments

Posted at 8:07 am in spiders

As you might guess, each day is now crammed with many errands and odd jobs as I move the last of my belongings into storage, clean up the house and yard, and marshal all of our gear for the autumn-winter trip. A couple of days ago, while my mom was out for a visit, I was showing her some feature on the back of my van. I happened to notice some webbing around the trailer hitch and decided to pull the plastic cover cap off of the square hitch opening. As I pulled at the cap, there was a surprising amount of tension and it was then that I noticed a stretchy piece of webbing with a couple of moths dangling from it. Being quite familiar with spider webs, the amount of tension in the web threads struck me as odd and unfamiliar, and then I thought of how messy the webbing around the hitch looked — and that immediately set me to wondering if there was some species of Widow (Latrodectus) spider lurking about.

The webbing snapped and I inspected the inside the plastic cover in my hand. Indeed, there was the spider, hanging prettily in a bit of webbing on the inside of the cap. I noticed she wasn’t quite as dark as the other Widow spiders that I’ve seen. This one was dark brown with curving lateral lines, with the typically bright reddish-orange hourglass pattern on the underside of the abdomen. Her long, hackled legs were a two-tone brown.

As most of you know, I’m not much for killing spiders — basically, I’m pretty much a live and let live person and only occasionally collect invertebrate specimens if asked to by a biologist friend. However, I decided that releasing this non-native spider would be rather irresponsible even if she couldn’t tough out our winter, so I dropped her into a vial of alcohol and will pass her along to someone who can make use of the specimen for a collection.

This morning, I did a bit of looking around online, and it seems as though this spider might be a Brown Widow (Latrodectus geometricus), commonly found in Florida – which is where my van came from back in May. So, my hitchhiking spider must have come up to Canada inside the trailer hitch opening. When I extracted the webbing inside the hitch, I found at least two or three exuviae tangled up with a variety of dead insects, so she appears to have done remarkably well stowed away beneath the van. In this factsheet from the Univ. of Florida, Sarasota, it is said of the distribution of the Brown Widow:

Since this article was first written in 2000, this spider has spread throughout Florida and people have reported sightings of it from Southern California, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Complaints about its occurrence in cars and RVs indicate this spider will make it home in these sites. Cars, trucks, and RVs have probably helped to distribute this spider far and wide. Its rapid expansion in Florida in the late 90s may have been the result of the milder winters. However, the most important factor in its expansion has probably been transportation by vehicles. The Extension Office continues to receive complaints asking how to rid them from in and under cars.

It also quotes Dr. G. B. Edwards, an arachnologist with the Florida State Collection of Arthropods in Gainesville as saying, the brown widow venom is twice as potent as black widow venom. However, they do not inject as much venom as a black widow, are very timid, and do not defend their web. The brown widow is also slightly smaller than the black widow.

Sounds pretty much like this spider’s modus operandi of hitchhiking around on vehicles. No doubt, our winter would have finished her off, but it’s easy to see how such spiders have so easily dispersed across North America.

Written by bev on August 25th, 2009

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