Here are three looks at a stunning jumping spider I found on a tall reed near the Savannah River in South Carolina. First with a white background showing the huge fuzzy forelegs and red-spotted abdomen, then a close-up portrait with the metallic green chelicerae, then a wide angle macro shot with a horse pasture, trees, and rainbow in the background :)
I found abundant signs of life and death in a recent walk through the woods
Jumping spider eating a midge
Assassin bugs stalking
Carpenter ants dragging a still living fly back to their colony
Blow fly waiting for something to die
Squeaks from a hollow tree trunk
Raccoon cubs squabbling and breastfeedingAnd skunk cabbage emerging after a long winter
Expansive live oaks dripping with spanish moss–a quintessential scene of the southeastern United States.
Contrary to the common name they are not actually a moss, rather a flowering plants in the Bromeliad family. They can reproduce from seed or by chunks moved by wind or birds, who use them for nest building. Their arboreal tangles provide important habitat for a wide diversity of arthropods including a highly specialized jumping spider which appears to only live in spanish moss.
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) live a pretty strange life style, for a plant. As “air plants” they spend their whole lives draped over tree branches far from anything resembling soil. So despite inhabiting only wet semi-tropical regions they are at serious risk of desiccation. To combat this they have a specialized water efficient form of photosynthesis called CAM Photosynthesis. This is the same trick that cacti use to conserve water. Up in the trees spanish moss must also find nutrients. Instead of having roots their long slender leaves are covered in scaly hairs that can absorb nutrients and water. Nutrients comes through rainwater and dust and also from the trees they inhabit. They are not stealers like parasitic mistletoe, rather, they soak up what washes out of tree bark and leaves. This source of nutrients is important enough that trees which leach few nutrients do not provide suitable habitat for spanish moss.
Spanish moss is also quite useful to humans. Up until the advent of synthetic fibers spanish moss was harvested from the ground after storms or directly from trees, then heaped into piles to decompose for a few weeks leaving just the dark elastic cords that make up the plants’ center. These were dried and cleaned, then used to stuff mattresses, car seats, or spun into rope, just to name a few uses. Spanish moss is also potentially useful as a simple way to monitor air pollution. Because they absorb particulates from the air which then accumulate in their tissues, measuring levels of toxic substances like Mercury in spanish moss may provide an accurate measure of air pollution in the area.
The South provides many natural history gems, but the ones hanging from the trees are among my favorites.
Photos taken on Sapelo Island, Georgia
Hey y’all, check out this blog post I wrote about some of my research on aphids over at Andrew Hendry’s blog. If you think that variation within species and ongoing evolutionary dynamics don’t matter, think again!
The first unwavering stare from a reptile
The first butterfly
The first disappearing act
The first leaves reaching for the sun
And the first flowers calling out
Common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
Comma (Polygonia c-album)
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
All photos taken 25 April 2015 in the broadleaf forests of Nancy Moore Park in East Lansing, Michigan.
I found some nifty arachnids this weekend in East Lansing. First are a couple of fishing spiders:
These are two different individuals, not sure if they are the same species. Now an adorable jumping spider:
Finally, a velvet mite scampering around on a rotten log: