Photos of the Week – May 28, 2020

Quick update – thanks to all of you who joined the webinar I gave this week on the topic of building resilience in prairies through restoration and management. I’m sorry again about the short notice I gave in my last post. If you missed the webinar, I have good news. It was recorded and you have two options for watching it. If you have a Zoom account, you should be able to just click HERE and watch it via that app. If you don’t have a Zoom account, you should be able to click HERE and get a downloadable MP4 file (it’s big…).

If you’re interested in a short tutorial on photography techniques, I’ll be giving a talk on that subject at 12:30 PM Central Time on June 3 and you can learn more/register for that HERE. The presentation is designed to be helpful no matter what camera you use. Quite a few people commented that they’d enjoy other webinars if I can put them together. If you have thoughts on that, including potential subject matter, please add your comments to this post or the previous one. Thanks!

Early this week, I drove up and back to the Niobrara Valley Preserve in an effort to collect data for an important collaborative research project. It was a really long day, made longer by the fact that the weather forecast greatly underestimated how long it was going to rain. I had planned to arrive after the rain had ended, do some vegetation clipping/collecting, and bring those samples home to dry and weigh. When I actually arrived, however, rain was still steadily falling. That was bad news since I needed to wait until the vegetation was dry to do my work.

Making lemonade, as they say, I took the opportunity to go look at my favorite pasqueflower hillside, curious to see if any flowers were still blooming. They weren’t, but the seed heads of pasqueflower are also very attractive, so as the clouds started to finally thin and break a little, I spent a little time photographing pasqueflower seedheads.

As I laid down on the steep rocky slopes to get close to the plants, I noticed two things. First, rocks are sharp. Second, there were a lot of crab spiders hanging out in the seedheads. The second overruled the first and I sacrificed bodily comfort to capture some images of spiders amongst the fuzzy seeds.

Here are some of those photos.

One of the seedheads, sans spider.
Based on the size of some of the green crab spiders I saw, I wonder if they spent the winter as adults.
There were also a lot of these smaller, more tan-colored crab spiders hanging about. This one is displaying the ambush posture typical of crab spiders, which have extra long front legs to grab prey that gets to close. Maybe they should be called ‘grab spiders’…
I didn’t see any pollinators or other insects visiting the seed heads (there being no pollen or nectar available) so I wonder if the spiders ever got anything to eat.
This one didn’t have a spider on it, but was starting to lose its seeds. Very pretty. You can also see that the sun had started to peek through the clouds here, so this was one of the last photos I took before heading back toward my research plots.

Eventually, the sun came out, the grass dried out, and I was able to do my work and start the long trip back home. It was a much longer day than I’d anticipated, but the unexpected delay turned out ok after all.

A Couple Announcements and A Terrific Non-Spider

Hi everyone, I know it’s short notice, but I wanted to let you know about a couple upcoming webinars I’m giving, in case you’re interested in joining. The first is really short notice – it’s tomorrow (May 27) at 10:30 AM Central Time.

For that first presentation, I’ll be talking about building ecological resilience in prairies. The primary audience includes people associated with the Prairie Corridor Project – a great effort to create a trail and series of natural areas outside Lincoln, Nebraska. However, they said I could invite others to join. Who better to invite than all my friends who read this blog? If you’re interested in joining, here is the information you’ll need (Not sure if you’ll need the meeting ID and password.) Meeting ID: 935 3210 5163 Password: 076725

The second presentation is next week on June 3 and is a short photography workshop. It’s intended to help people better understand how their camera makes images and how to use that knowledge to advantage. It should apply to people using any kind of camera – even if it’s just the one on your phone. You can read more about the presentation and learn how to join at this link. The photography talk is part of a series presented by The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. You can see the other options here.

Since many of us are living on Zoom, Skype, or other platforms these days, I’ve wondered if there would be interest in me providing live presentations (potentially recorded for others to watch later) aimed at the readers of this blog. I’m worried that people are so overwhelmed by these kinds of remote meetings and webinars that the thought of adding one more to their lives seems crazy. I guess I’ll just ask. Is this something you’d be interested in? If so, leave me a note in the comments section, along with a topic you’d be interested in. I’ll see what the response looks like and then make plans accordingly.

Sorry for filling up space with all that. I was actually intending to write a short note about a neat little invertebrate you might be seeing near you right now. (Maybe RIGHT BEHIND YOU! – or not)

The daddy long-legs, aka harvestman, is not a spider, even though it has 8 legs. It’s related, but different. One big difference is that it has only two eyes, which are perched up on top of its body like a cockpit on a science fiction mechanical vehicle. This common resident in many people’s gardens, neighborhoods, and even houses/apartments, is a fascinating – and harmless – creature that is often misunderstood.

Harvestmen are automatically disliked by some people because they look so much like spiders. Telling someone that a harvestman is not technically a spider doesn’t seem to be very effective when that person is staring in fear and disgust at a (relatively) big creature with eight very long legs. Whether or not the harvestman is dangerous (it’s not) doesn’t really matter at that point either.

However, that part about being dangerous is important. Because it is known colloquially as a daddy long-legs, it is often confused with other creatures that go by the same name. One of those is a cellar spider in Australia with the reputation as having the most potent venom in the world, or something crazy like that. In fact, the spider is not dangerous to people, but that reality doesn’t stop the rumor mill. You can read more about the amazing daddy long-legs spider here.

Since harvestmen (there are many species) are often confused with the daddy long-legs spider, and people think the daddy long-legs spider is deadly, the innocent harvestman strikes fear in the hearts of some people. That’s a shame because they’re a really cool little animal. They’re easy to pick up and observe in-hand, and common in many places around the world. The biggest issue with them is that they have a tendency to drop a leg or two if they feel threatened, and that can skeeve some people out.

The harvestman feeds on small invertebrates and rotting plant and animal matter. It only rarely eats small children. (That’s a joke.) As they move around the world, their second pair of legs – from the front – function much like antennae. If you get a chance to watch a harvestman walking around, you’ll to see what I mean. They extend those legs, which are full of little sensory organs, and feel around in front of them, much like many other invertebrates use their antennae.

Anyway, if you see a harvestman, take a closer look. If you don’t like spiders, maybe the harvestman can be a kind of ambassador into the world of arachnids – it is an arachnid, just not a spider. If you DO like spiders, but had been told that harvestman (daddy long-legs) were dangerous, now you know they’re not. If you already like spiders AND knew that harvestmen were harmless, well good for you. You can just enjoy these photos taken from my backyard last week.