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Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Ringtail Seen on Boulder Creek Road

A quick notation of an observation made this past week:

On August 20, 2014 (Wednesday night), I saw a Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) around 11 pm a few miles outside of Cuyamaca Woods, south of the Boulder Creek Fire Station.

This was the best view of this species that I have ever had, as after I first spotted it in the road in front of my car, it meandered fairly casually in front of me (as I slowed the car down and crept after it). After about a minute of clear viewing, it moved off the road and started to climb a large tree. I lost sight of it after that.

There are a fair number of large trees in this area, a small riparian area that parallels the road and boulders here and there.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Spiders of Cuyamaca Woods

I periodically write a natural history-related article for our community newsletter, and just completed one on spiders, so thought I'd reproduce the article here...for the pleasure of those spider people out there!

"A Guide to (Some) of the Spiders of Cuyamaca Woods"

I know the small, many-legged ones are not everyone's favorites, but there ARE many fascinating spiders sharing our world here in Cuyamaca Woods - too many to ignore!

If you've lived here for any length of time, there's a good chance you've seen the larger, more dramatic species. The largest spider by far that we have here in the Woods is the tarantula, of course. Usually we see a small number (less than half a dozen) of the "common" tarantula of the area every year, which is a long, lanky, very dark-colored member of the genus Aphonopelma. Tarantulas are not deadly, but can deliver a bite with an intensity reminiscent of a bee or wasp sting. They also possess urticating (irritating) hairs on the tops of their abdomens which come off easily and can lodge in sensitive skin areas, causing a certain amount of discomfort to the victim. So it is not recommended that tarantulas be picked up or played with, despite the temptation for some. Tarantulas breed in the fall, so are sometimes seen in greater numbers in late summer leading into that breeding season (at least that is the pattern that I have tended to see). Watch out for them on the roads as they are slow-movers!

 Tarantula on my property, with my finger to provide scale. July 2012.
Another large spider species which is a regular visitor to my patio in the summer, is the Giant Crab Spider, Olios giganteus. The body length of this spider can reach around one inch, with a leg span of around 3 inches, and it is quite hairy, so it is an attention-grabber! These spiders are fairly docile (as most spiders are) and are not dangerous to humans, even if one were to be bitten by one.

 A full-sized Olios giganteus found by my neighbors right after we moved to Cuyamaca Woods.
Most residents of the Woods are all too aware of the fact that we share the neighborhood with black widow spiders. There are two possible species that could occur in our region, the Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus) and the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans). The female Southern has a small red spot above the spinnerets (the "rear end") which the Western lacks. Both females possess the characteristic reddish hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. Black widow spider venom is a potent neurotoxin, and anyone bitten should seek immediate medical attention, and if possible, collect the spider which delivered the bite. We also have Brown Widows, which have somewhat recently been detected in California. Unlike the previous two widow species, which are native to our area, the Brown Widow is non-native, and has a range that seems to be expanding in the United States. The Brown Widow's venom is not considered to be dangerous to humans, although care is recommended around any widow-like spider encountered!

A Western Black Widow, outside my house.
A male Brown Widow on my property. Note the pale hourglass marking, and the enlarged pedipalps (the large ball-like structures at the head-end - they are used by the male to help transfer sperm to the female during mating).

The last spiders I'll mention here are very small, but bursting with personality (and energy). They are the jumping spiders - VERY aptly named little arachnids, which will leap away at the slightest provocation, but if approached slowly and quietly can be observed closely. A jumping spider will very obviously be observing you, as well, with its eight eyes, the four in the front being large, round and shiny, and thus hard to miss. The other eyes are smaller and, when combined with the anterior ("front") eyes, give a jumping spider close to a 360 degree range of vision!

The jumping spider family (Salticidae) is the largest spider family, and for those who are motivated, finding species in Cuyamaca Woods could probably become a full-time hobby (if one chose!). I am slowly trying to photograph jumping spiders as I encounter them in the area, and have encountered the common kinds, which are usually in the genus Phidippus, as well as one which may be an undescribed species - time will tell, and a jumping spider expert has a single specimen of the "mystery" spider.

A colorful jumping spider, Phidippus sp. just outside the house.

For those interested in seeing a few more Cuyamaca Woods spiders (including the "mystery" jumper mentioned above, labeled "Maevia") and other arachnids, see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/39935474@N03/sets/72157646520448242/

These are by no means the only spiders in Cuyamaca Woods - just a tiny cross section of some of the more conspicuous or charismatic. We seem to live in a very rich environment with many species, so keep an eye out for other intriguing eight-legged ones as you go about your business or pleasure in the Woods.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Did the Monsoons Yield in the Anza Borrego Desert?

A quick trip to see.

Gary and I headed down to Coyote Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and then set up a couple black lights in Borrego Springs after dark. Four days previously the area had a great deal of rain (and flooding) from some monsoonal moisture that moved into the area.

Coyote Canyon:

We only made it as far as First Crossing, and the road in to that point was pretty rough and showed places where there had been massive mud piles a couple days earlier.

There had been much more water than this at its peak, judging from the mud and flood-signs. The leading edge of the stream receded and then moved forward again while we watched - strange.

Just past where we parked the truck. The flowering shrub appears to be Petalonyx thurberi.
Nemognatha sp. on Petalonyx. These little blister beetles were abundant on one bush that I saw, and absent on all the others I looked at. They were actively feeding on nectar with their long mouthparts, then would clean their mouthparts carefully after sipping (as shown below)!

Tidying up.

I also saw these stink bugs on the Petalonyx. After a bit of searching on Bugguide.net after returning home I found that they appear to be Agonoscelis puberula (the African Cluster Bug), a non-native True Bug, first collected in the U.S. in 1990.

Honey Bees were out and about (no surprise there).

A carpenter bee at Desert Willow, which was also flowering.

Asbolus verrucosus, a darkling beetle. We had seen these in Coyote Canyon in the spring of this year also.

Raccoon tracks in the mud.

"Cat" or "dog" track? Since there's some debate, I'll attach a couple photos below that are very typical "cat" tracks. The "M" shaped leading edge of the large pad is at least hard to see here, but there is a lack of good claw marks and the spread and overall gestalt seems cat-like, which would mean Bobcat (and not Coyote as I originally thought).

Bobcat track, just west of Shelter Valley, Anza Borrego Desert, August 2012. Better "M" shape...

Mountain Lion track, NAS Miramar, mid-1990s. Nice "M" plus massive size.

Roadrunner track. Very recognizable with two toes forward and two toes back.

After leaving the peaceful retreat of Coyote Canyon, we headed into Borrego Springs proper and set up black lights at a motel (closed for the hot season) with advance permission from the owners. There had been rumor of large beetles there last September, following monsoonal rainfall, and so I was hoping for Derobrachus sp. to come to the lights.

Here are some of the beetles that DID show (no Derobrachus this time!). They are shown roughly in the order in which they arrived at the sheets.

Hybosorus illigeri, a small shiny black beetle, in the Scavenger Scarab Beetle family. This is another non-native, originally from Europe and elsewhere in the Old World. Many came to the light, when in the past, in other locations, I have only seen a couple at a time at lights.

Cyclocephala sp. (possibly C. longula). 

Osmidus guttatus. This is the first I have seen of this species in San Diego County, although I have seen them regularly in Imperial County in the past. This one is a female (the male's antennae would be much longer).

Omorgus suberosus, a type of Hide Beetle. 

At first I thought this was the "common" Diplotaxis that seem to always appear at lights in our deserts in the summer. Then I noticed the hairiness and wondered what it was, as I did not remember hairiness on Diplotaxis in my limited experience. Thanks to Bob Androw at the Carnegie Museum for helping with its determination - it appears to be Diplotaxis fossipalpa, which is fairly hairy for this genus.

Creosote Bush Katydid (Insara covilleae), a very sharp-looking katydid indeed! These have always been uncooperative for photos in the past, but this one stayed put briefly.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Diversion to Southeast Arizona in the Monsoon: Insects and Arachnids

Here are some of the insects (and others) seen on my annual trip to Southeast Arizona when the monsoon rains bring out life forms of all kinds...

This trip lasted from July 24 - 29, 2014.

For insects and arachnids (as for most life) the top priorities are 1) eating and 2), reproducing (not necessarily in that order). That theme keeps showing up in my photos!

Here are some (mostly) non-Coleoptera.

Robber fly with prey, east of Madera Canyon Road.

A large robber fly with what looks like a Mydas fly as prey. East of Madera Canyon Road.

Robber fly with Euphoria (a scarab beetle) prey. I think this may be Diogmates sp. (a hanging thief).

Apiomerus sp. - an assassin bug - after flying into a small spider web. Madera Canyon Road area.
Eupackardia calleta, a Giant Silkmoth. It appeared at my "woodsy" light in the upper Madera Canyon area.

A Jerusalum cricket which showed up at my parking lot light, upper Madera Canyon area.

Now the beetles, which were the focus of the trip. When I arrived at Madera Canyon on the 24th, there had been a long break on the monsoon in that area of Arizona (I would say over a week, based on the radar that I had watched in advance on weather web sites, and from talking to local people). The typical beetle abundance and diversity seemed low along Madera Canyon Road amongst the mesquites, and I wondered if this Colorado Potato Beetle might be a "special" beetle of the trip! So it was the first photographic subject!

Leptinotarsa decemlineata, on some member of the Solanaceae along Madera Canyon Road.

In the next few days, the monsoon came back in a big way, and some fantastic soaking rains fell day and night (but luckily not CONTINUOUSLY day and night in ONE place!) in the areas south of Tucson. Somehow, the storms never really seriously disrupted my activities (as big thunderstorms can completely ruin a black lighting evening). Although the massive storm that raged from around midnight until about 5 am on Saturday night while I was in my tent in Madera Canyon didn't exactly make for peaceful sleeping conditions!

More beetles.

Curculio sp., an acorn weevil. This is a female, with a very long beak. Upper Madera Canyon.

Now the beak-length differences are obvious between the sexes! Curculio sp., upper Madera Canyon.

Copris arizonensis. This well-horned male was lurking in the vicinity of a mercury vapor light near Pena Blanca Lake. This is only the second of this species I have seen, and in both cases the "lurking" behavior was displayed, near, but not "at" a light.

Enaphalodes hispicornis, a large cerambycid (long-horned beetle). Mount Lemmon, Santa Catalina Mountains.

Moneilema gigas, the common Moneilema in Arizona. Typically associated with cactus. The monsoon season is the time to reproduce, as many insects were demonstrating!

Chrysina lecontei, at Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson.

Enoclerus bimaculatus, a clerid or checkered beetle. I have seen this species on every trip to Madera Canyon over the past several years. 

Strategus cessus, an ox beetle. Mount Lemmon again.
Some arachnids now.

A large orb weaver, upper Madera Canyon area. 

The same spider as above. It has distinctive protrusions on the abdomen. I saw what seemed to be a similar species at Peppersauce Canyon a few years previously with Margarethe Brummermann and Eric Eaton. Identity to be determined later.

This seems to be Paraphidippus aurantius, which shows a huge amount of variation in colors and patterns. Margarethe Brummermann spotted it in my campsite in Madera Canyon and we both attempted various photos of it, including in natural light to preserve the green colors. This is one of my best images (not exactly tack-sharp).

Another angle of the same spider.

A scorpion, near Madera Canyon Road. Appears to be an Arizona Stripe-tailed (Vaejovis spinigerus).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Speckled Rattlesnake in Cuyamaca Woods! Plus some additional rattlers of the region...

In over three decades of roaming the back country of San Diego County I've encountered plenty of Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oregonus helleri) and Red Diamond Rattlesnakes (Crotalus ruber). The Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus) has eluded me in all these years, but thanks to a thoughtful neighbor, I was able to not only see, but photograph a very young speckled specimen.

Since I was beetle-chasing in Arizona when the snake was initially found, the snake was kept safely in a plastic tote, in full shade, misted with water periodically for the couple days before I got back.

The little snake was in fine shape and ready to go when we visited.

Ready to slither - only one rattle segment present (the "button" or first rattle segment) so this is a very young individual. Each subsequent shedding event will result in a new segment being added.
We released the little snake some distance away and its first priority was to get away and hide! It was a warm morning, so it moved rapidly. I managed a few photos before it found shelter under a rock.

The best image when it stopped briefly and assumed a semi-coil. This species has less-obvious diamond markings than the other two rattler species in the region. This snake tends to occur where there are boulders (which are typically granite), so it is well camouflaged for a landscape rich in granite.

On the move, and nicely camouflaged here also!
Here are images of the other two rattlesnake species commonly found west of the deserts in San Diego County.

Crotalus oregonus helleri, the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake. This was a young one I encountered in the mid-1990s at Naval Air Station Miramar when I was doing vertebrate survey work in graduate school. In over five years of year-round field work on this Navy base, I probably saw a rattlesnake on average every other day in the warm seasons. Usually I detected them by walking within a foot of so of them. Sometimes they rattled and sometimes not! Needless to say, I (and my colleagues) wore metal-mesh knee-length gaiters in the field!

A "newborn" Southern Pacific on our patio in Cuyamaca Woods in October of 2010. Rattlesnakes retain their eggs which hatch internally, and then the babies are "born" (which is called ovovivipary).

A close-up of the snake shown above. That looks like a "pre-button" on its tail - the VERY first rattle segment present directly following birth.

An older Southern Pacific on our property, August 2013. The jays' mobbing behavior tipped me off about the whereabouts of this snake. 

Another adult Southern Pacific, NAS Miramar, Green Farms Road, mid-1990s.

Crotalus ruber, the Red Diamond Rattlesnake. For some reason, this is the only photograph I have of this fairly common species (common at least in my experience). This one was under a board that had been set out for the purpose of attracting herps (reptiles and/or amphibians) during the vertebrate survey on NAS Miramar in the mid-1990s. There was an (empty) mouse nest under the board also! This species is much redder than the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, and has a "coon tail", a black and white banded terminal portion to the tail, just before the rattle. This is a Federal Special Concern species, and a California Special Concern species.  
Below are two other southern California rattlesnakes, found east of the mountains.

Crotalus cerastes, the Sidewinder. This species can exist in sandy regions of the deserts. I have seen it in the Anza Borrego Desert State park, and the individual below was photographed in the Algodones Dunes in Imperial County (south of Glamis). This particular snake above slithered up to less than six inches from my right thigh when I was crouched in the sand photographing dune-dwelling insects last August. I spotted it before actually putting my hand down on it, and reflexively lurched towards the left in the sand. It went the other way, and then cooperated for a (cautious-on-my-part) photo-session.

Crotalus atrox, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. I found this one in the region of the Algodones Dunes a couple miles north of Glamis in April of 2010. I stepped fairly near it while hiking out of the dunes back towards my car in the late morning before seeing it. I was wearing snake gaiters! Notice the "coon tail" again - a feature of this species as well. 
This last snake is not a California resident, but instead is found in Arizona and regions of Mexico south of Arizona. It is a beautiful and seldem-seen (at least for me!) snake, so I can't resist including it at the end here.

Crotalus tigris, the Tiger Rattlesnake. Thanks to a herper (reptile/amphibian enthusiast) who found this snake in Montosa Canyon, Arizona last July. Many participants in the "Bugguide Gathering 2013" saw and photographed the snake.
Robyn (in orange T-shirt), and fellow bug people, taking a vertebrate-break.
NOTE: Rattlesnake venom varies in its effects, depending on the species, but is always highly damaging to tissues and can lead to death if untreated. Take serious caution when walking or exploring in places where rattlesnakes can live. If you're unfamiliar with rattlesnake behavior, it's not recommended that you photograph rattlesnakes, especially when they are coiled.