Posts from the ‘spiders & webs’ Category

Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.

Florida Part 1: Mangrove & Key Wildlife

“Sunshine State”??…not when we were there! During the first week in June, Bridget and I took the kids to the Fort Myers Beach/Estero Beach area for a mini-family reunion for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Though we only saw the sun for a grand total of 15 minutes in our six days and survived a blow from Tropical Storm Andrea (60 mph winds, torrential rain…Whitecaps in the pool!), WE ALL HAD A BLAST and I did manage to get out and shoot a bit. I visited the Estero Beach Lagoon behind the Holiday Inn several times, and Bridget and I did some hiking at Lovers Key State Park, exploring the Red Mangrove thickets and wooded hammocks.
Cuban Brown Anolis sagrei Anole Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4204Though the CUBAN BROWN ANOLE (Anolis sagrei) is a fascinating creature, it is an alien here, introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s, and is sadly crowding out the native Green Anole (and will eat them too!). This male is showing his orange-red dewlap…a common feature of lizards and anoles which is used for several reasons…1) to make itself look bigger and to warn off predators, and 2) to impress the ladies during mating season.

Mangrove Tree Crab Aratus pisonii Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4189MANGROVE TREE CRABS (Aratus pisonii) are gorgeous residents of mangroves in south Florida…This species was a lifer for me, and we saw MANY at Lovers Key State Park just south of Fort Myers Beach. Native to Florida and south to northern Brazil (on the Atlantic) and to Peru on the Pacific side. They migrate vertically in the mangrove trees, remaining higher up during high tide and then coming down to beach level at low tide. This was one of the bigger ones at 2-inches across.

Zebra Longwing Heliconius charitonius Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4210An old friend, The ZEBRA LONGWING (Heliconius charitonius) is a fairly common butterfly of south Florida, and I’ve seen them on every trip. Don’t you love it when large stunning critters are actually common! This one was nectaring at a butterfly garden in Lovers Key State Park.

Snowy Egret Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4183SNOWY EGRETS are very common birds in south Florida, and can even be seen foraging in the surf line on busy beaches. This bird is still sporting its feathery finest with delicate plumes blowing in the ocean breeze. Lovers Key State Park.

Mangrove Periwinkle Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4430Sea shells are not the only shells along the beach. Terrestrial snails also have beautiful shells. This is the MANGROVE PERIWINKLE (Littoria angulifera) found at the Estero Beach Lagoon in, what else, a Mangrove!

Mangrove Periwinkles Littorina angulifera Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4401 A group of MANGROVE PERIWINKLES (Littoria angulifera). Note the variation in shell patterns.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4322WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. Check out those blue eyes! Mainly found in the Gulf Coast states in the U.S.

White Ibis Estero Beach Lagoon Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4318WHITE IBIS at Estero Beach Lagoon. They used that wicked curved bill to pluck crayfish and other crustaceans from water and mud and grass. Will also occasionally eat insects and small fish.

flower Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4252Bridget pointed out this unfurling wildflower in Lovers Key.

Basilica Orbweaver Mecynogea lemniscota Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4234The BASILICA ORBWEAVER (Mecynogea lemniscota) builds a very complex web. In fact, its common name comes from the basilica-like dome it creates by pulling up its horizontal orb web with guy threads (visible in the photo). Native to wetland woods in the SE U.S.

Sea Grape Coccoloba uvifera Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach, FL IMG_4227SEA GRAPE (Coccoloba uvifera) is a distinctive and common plant of beach dunes and wetland woods. Because of its high tolerance to salt, it is an important dune stabilizer of Florida beaches. Grape-like clusters of fruit hang in bunches and are edible once they ripen red. You can even make jams and jellies out of the fruit.

Lined Tree Snail Drymaeus multilineatus Lovers Key State Park Ft. Myers Beach FL IMG_4205LINED TREE SNAIL (Drymaeus multilineatus) is another attractive mollusk of the wetland forests.

[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens or Tamron 100mm f2 macro, handheld.]


Hard Frost

I was up with the baby at 5am…As I was rocking him back to sleep, I saw the temperature was hovering around freezing and the sky was clear. I knew the temp would fall a couple more degrees at or near sunrise, often the coldest time of day. Frost forms when the air temp around the leaf is below the dew point; moisture condenses out of the air onto the leaf and then crystallizes into ice. Conditions in early autumn are often ideal for frost formation; Cold, calm, clear nights in an atmosphere loaded with moisture. Winter is often too dry.

I headed over to the Wrenshall WMA where I knew a field of goldenrods and dogwoods would be a good place to find frosty subjects. A red dogwood leaf rimmed in frost first caught my eye. I intentionally chose a shaded background to contrast with the white fringe of ice.

My real goal, though, was to find an orbweaver spider web that had frosted over. I have a running “battle” with my friend and fellow author Larry Weber about finding and photograph a frosted orbweaver web. He technically won last year when he found an old tattered web that had frosted. But the one I found today was 80% perfect. Larry is in the Adirondacks so I’ll have to rub it in when he gets back!

Yes, mine is on a barbed wire fence but I kind of like the juxtaposition of permanent hard and cold metal with the impermanent delicate fragility of a spider web. Ironically, both are meant to capture and contain…One insect prey and the other cows!

Dogwood Leaf: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with Canon 500D close-up lens, f13 at 1/125, ISO 400, tripod

Orbweaver web & barbed wire: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with Canon 500D close-up lens, f6.7 at 1/1500, ISO 200, tripod

Shaded goldenrod: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens, f5.6 at 1/180, ISO 200, tripod

Orbweaver web close-up: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with Canon 500D close-up lens, f16 at 1/125, ISO 200, tripod