Monday, August 23, 2010

Gorgeous Garden Spider

This is the beautiful Black and Yellow Garden Spider, or Argiope spider, Argiope aurantia, which I was excited to notice amid the native plantings while we were visiting the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on Saturday. The female's body can be 1.5" in length and the total size including legs can be up to 3" in diameter. It is a very large, dramatic, gorgeous spider! I have seen one only once before, in my garden several years ago.

I wasn't sure if the white zigzag that looks rather like dental floss was associated with the spider and its web, though it certainly seemed to be. This website has a lot of information about the Argiope spider, and (citing Behavioral Ecology magazine) explains the purpose of the zigzag material, known as stabilimenta:
Stabilimenta are conspicuous lines or spirals of silk, included by many diurnal spiders at the center of their otherwise cryptic webs. It has been shown spider webs using stabilimenta catch, on average, 34% fewer insects than those without. However, webs with the easily-visible markings are damaged far less frequently by birds flying through the web. It is an evolutionary tradeoff the spider can influence every time it builds a new web. The inclusion of stabilimenta is influenced by many factors, including prey density and web location.
I thought that was fascinating. You can see more of the web in the photo below, from which the one above was cropped.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Section of the Tree Falls

Last week I posted a photo of a large section of a honey locust tree that fell from our neighbor's property into our circle. Last night the second of the three main sections fell in the overnight storms, landing just a few feet short of our house.

Here's the view from inside the house:

Once again, we didn't hear a thing -- this time not only because we were inside with the AC running, but because we were asleep except when awoken by thunder, lashing rain, and nearly hourly severe thunderstorm and flash flooding alerts on our emergency weather radio.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Closer to an Eagle Than I Thought I'd Ever Be

Last weekend we were on Shawano Lake in east-central Wisconsin, "reuning" with my best friends from my law school days (in a former life I was an attorney for a few years). One of our hosts took us out in their pontoon boat and, knowing of our interest in birdwatching, made a detour along a rare stretch of undeveloped land on that very built-up lake, where they had sometimes seen eagles. This one was resting and scanning the lake, and seemed undisturbed when we cut the motor and drifted silently closer for a better look.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What If a Tree Falls and No One Hears It?

I got home at about 6:30 last night. We sat around in the living room for a while listening to my son play all his upcoming band concert songs on his new French horn. We wandered into the kitchen, made a dinner salad, and ate it. Needless to say, like every other household blessed with air conditioning, we were running it with the windows closed during yesterday's sauna-like conditions (low 90s and dew point close to 70, which is more Gulf-state than Minnesota).

Anyway, after dinner we sat in the kitchen for a while, and then I thought I'd go back into the living room where there's an overhead fan. And there, filling the view from our large picture window, was a massive section of our neighbor's honey locust tree, which on this windless day of all days had cracked and fallen right into the circle we live on, without our hearing a thing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dog Day Cicada

This mammoth insect, at least 1.5 inches long including wings, was hanging out on the screen this morning. After exclaiming, "Holy bleep, what the bleep is that?!!!" (though I'm sure I've seen these before from time to time), I looked it up in my Rodale's Color Handbook of Garden Insects. It seems to be a cidaca -- quite possibly the "dog day cicada," which emerges annually in mid to late summer. The famous periodical cicadas, which disappear for years and then reappear in large quantities on a predictable cycle such as every 13 or 17 years, are said to emerge earlier in the summer.

Identifying features of the cicada are its large size (.75 to 2.25 inches), a wide, blunt head with prominent eyes (you can see them bulging on either end of the head in this photo), and the length of the transparent wings relative to the body. Read more about cicadas at the National Geographic website.