Archive for August, 2009

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, Dr. Fred Santana writes 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.

Sounds pretty much like this spider’s modus operandi. No doubt, our winter would have finished her off, but it’s easy to see how such spiders can easily hitchhike their way all around North America.

Written by bev on August 25th, 2009

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Dr. Clawbonny's Cabin   13 comments

Posted at 4:42 pm in farm,sabrina,sage

As you can see in the above photo, Sage has been busy growing up over the past couple of months. She and Sabrina have gradually become good friends. A lot of that has to do with her learning not to do aggravating things such as tugging on Sabrina’s ears or tail. Despite not looking or sounding much like a pup anymore, Sage still does her best puppy barks for me if I seem to be looking at her a little too long, or get out my camera. She will lie on her side, kicking her hind feet and flipping tail up while making sharp puppy barks. I shot this short video clip during a recent performance. Believe me when I tell you that this sharp, high-pitched bark is nothing like the unusually deep, gutteral bark which she employs while investigating strange noises outside of the house in the evening. It actually seems impossible that a single dog could be capable of making such diverse sounds. Sometimes I have to wonder if she’s possessed by demons as she makes the weirdest vocalizations. I’m not the only one thinking this as I often catch Sabrina staring at her as if to say, “What the hell kind of sound is that?!”

In other news, there have been some rapid developments since my last post a couple of days ago. It seems that my farm is now sold. I signed papers to that effect yesterday. The closing is at the end of August (yes, that’s very short). However, that suits me fine as I had been planning to get on the road fairly soon and have already moved most of my belongings into storage. Now, I’ll just step up the pace a bit as I finish outfitting the van for my autumn and winter travels.

Yesterday, while looking for something quite unrelated, I came upon a passage which reminded me more than a little of how my van is coming together. It’s from the novel “The Adventures of Captain Hatteras” by Jules Verne, and describes how Dr. Clawbonny, the ship’s physician on an expedition to the north pole, has outfitted his tiny cabin:

Dr. Clawbonny was in his element; he had taken possession of his cabin on the 6th of February, the day after the Forward was launched.

“The happiest of animals,” he used to say, “is a snail, for it can make a shell exactly to fit it; I shall try to be an intelligent snail.”

And considering that the shell was to be his lodging for a considerable time, the cabin began to look like home; the doctor had a savant’s or a child’s pleasure in arranging his scientific traps. His books, his herbals, his set of pigeon-holes, his instruments of precision, his chemical apparatus, his collection of thermometers, barometers, hygrometers, rain-gauges, spectacles, compasses, sextants, maps, plans, flasks, powders, bottles for medicine-chest, were all classed in an order that would have shamed the British Museum. The space of six square feet contained incalculable riches: the doctor had only to stretch out his hand without moving to become instantaneously a doctor, a mathematician, an astronomer, a geographer, a botanist, or a conchologist. It must be acknowledged that he was proud of his management and happy in his floating sanctuary, which three of his thinnest friends would have sufficed to fill….”

I’m now thinking that my van may have found its name — Dr. Clawbonny’s Cabin.

So, perhaps some of you may wonder how I’m feeling about having sold the farm. As you might suppose, I have somewhat mixed feelings. On the one hand, I will miss this place for the memories Don and I made over the 31 years that we lived here. I’ll miss all of the trees and flowers that I planted, and the little studio building we built next to the house. I’ll miss the abundant birds, and the oldfield pastures with their many insects. And I’ll miss the Spider Ranch part of the garden where I tried to preserve an almost perfect space for Argiope spiders to build their webs. On the other hand, Don and I had always planned to retire elsewhere some day — probably to Nova Scotia. Conseqently, me staying here alone now seems like a weird existence, as though I am stuck in limbo waiting for something that can and never will happen (Don’s return). Instead, the only logical thing to do seems to be to find a new place that isn’t carrying a lot of psychological baggage — no memories of the past couple of years of struggling with Don’s illness and death. However, for now, maybe I’m not even ready for that. My mind still feels too restless and tormented to be making weighty decisions such as buying land and building or renovating a house. No. Best to do some wandering around in Dr. Clawbonny’s Cabin while I try to figure out what comes next.

Written by bev on August 14th, 2009

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