A few of us took a short trip out to our family prairie last weekend. My daughter was back from college for the weekend and wanted to see what was happening in the prairie, so we did a little canoeing (tight circles in the small pond), hiking, and exploring. Later, I found myself photographing dotted gayfeather seeds, and while I was looking for more of those plants, I stumbled upon a grass leaf that was bent funny with some kind of white silk holding it in that position. I had actually walked past the grass leaf before my brain finally registered the fact that I should go back and examine it.
Looking more closely, I could see enough of the creature inside to identify it as a crab spider. It had been raining quite a bit during the previous couple weeks, so my first thought was that the crab spider had made itself a little rain shelter. (Crab spiders don’t make webs, but like all spiders, do make silk and use it for various purposes.). However, my better guess was that it was a nest and that it might contain a bunch of spider eggs. I photographed it for a few minutes, taking lots of photos, since the breeze was making it hard to keep the spider in focus.
Later, when I was looking through images at home, I was culling all the photos of the spider that weren’t in focus (dang that wind) when I happened to spot something that confirmed my guess. Right above an unfocused crab spider face, a tiny spiderling appeared – just in one photo, not in any others. Apparently, this was indeed a crab spider nest, and at least one egg had already hatched.
Crab spiders aren’t the only group of spiders that take care of their kids. Frequent readers of this blog will, of course, remember a previous post of mine showing a mother wolf spider carrying her brood around on her body, and even if you don’t, you may have heard that wolf spiders lug both their egg sacs and newly hatched babies around with them. Wolf spiders aren’t alone, though, and we’re still learning more about how well various spider species care for their young. If you’re interested, you can read more in this nice blog post from Biome Ecology. Otherwise, you can just join me in wishing this particular crab spider’s brood good luck as they disperse and try to find safe places to overwinter.
This post was written and illustrated by Olivia Schouten, one of our Hubbard Fellows. Olivia is an excellent scientist and land manager, as well as a great writer. In this post, she shares a recent experience with, and some interesting trivia about, a cute furry animal.
We had a visitor in the front yard the other day, which gave me a great opportunity to take some pictures of a mammal I don’t often get to see. This woodchuck (Marmota monax) has been spotted around our crew quarters here on the Platte River Prairies for a few weeks now, and appears to have taken up residence in our wood pile. I finally managed to spend some time watching it from the safety of the living room while it foraged in the yard for dandelion leaves.
I haven’t had many experiences with woodchucks, also called
groundhogs and whistle-pigs. (As an aside, I didn’t realize they were one in the
same until I was in college. I have a friend Jessica, who’s probably reading
this, who was there when I made the connection and exclaimed “Wait? You’re
saying how much wood would a woodchuck chuck and Groundhog Day are the same
thing?!”, and likes to bring it up whenever she can.) In fact, I’ve probably
seen more yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota
flaviventris), a close cousin to woodchucks, while travelling in the Rocky
Mountains than our local woodchucks. I remember hearing a few whistling while
walking in the woods around my hometown in Iowa, but other than that, this may
be the first one I’ve ever seen, especially this close!
Unfortunately, the other experience I have with these
mammals, and one that I’m sure many readers also share, is of their digging
habits. My parents recently had one removed from their backyard because it was
busy burrowing under their garage. Apparently they are also pests in gardens,
which doesn’t surprise me since I watched the one in our yard munching happily
away on dandelions for several minutes. I’m inclined to find ways to cohabitate
peacefully with native animals that sometimes cause problems or destruction to
human structures, and a quick Google search turned up a lot of advice on how to
discourage woodchucks from taking up residence around your home or eating your
gardens. But I’m not going to talk any more about that (though like many
perceived “pest” species, the destruction they cause is likely inflated),
because I think this woodchuck is adorable, and I was inspired to look up more
information about them!
So here’s an informal list of some fun facts I dug up:
The name does not actually refer to woodchucks
chucking wood, but comes from a Native American word, wuchak, which means “digger”
Baby woodchucks are called chucklings!
They are really big squirrels! (Family
Their incisors grow 1/16” per week
They can climb trees and swim
They enter true hibernate over winter, surviving
on stored fat instead of making food caches
Their dens often provide homes for other animals
like small rodents, reptiles, skunks, red foxes, and cottontails
Woodchuck burrows have “bathroom” chambers
The origins of Groundhog Day began in 1886, when
an editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper
wrote that the local groundhogs hadn’t seen their shadows, and therefore spring
would be early
Their bodies drop to 37 degrees during
And their heartbeats slow to 5 beats per minute!
They have a top speed of 8 mph
They are for the most part solitary, with males
only hanging out with females during the breeding season and females taking
care of their young
They can eat a pound of food per sitting (a lot
for a creature that weighs at most 15 lbs)